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Viaduct Homeless Get Shelter Under Pilot Program

 The homeless encapment near Wilson Avenue
The homeless encapment near Wilson Avenue
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DNAinfo/Josh McGhee

UPTOWN — John Sasco wept tears of joy Friday morning when he was told to gather up his belonging in preparation for a journey to his new home.

The 51-year-old man has been homeless for more than a decade, spending the last seven years under the Lawrence Avenue viaduct, he said.

"I cried and I thanked my Lord. And before I walk into my apartment I'm gonna get on my knees and thank him again," said Sasco, sitting on a milk crate outside his tent eating his lunch. "Then I'll thank my landlord for giving me a chance because ain't nobody ever given me a chance."

Josh McGhee explains how the program works.

Sasco is one of the few residents of Uptown's Tent City, the homeless encampments lining the viaducts under Lake Shore Drive, vacating their tents for housing.

Sasco was housed through Thresholds, which has provided healthcare and housing for persons with mental illness since 1959, he said.

The agency's Mobile Assessment Unit has been working with the city's Homeless Task Force's Pilot Program, which aims to find permanent housing for 75 people currently living under the viaducts, said Emily Moen, Director of Public Relations for Thresholds.

So far, Threshholds has helped house three people, but could not confirm Sasco was one of them, Moen said.

Tressa Feher, Chief of Staff for Ald. James Cappleman (46th), said Friday morning that the Homeless Task Force program had found housing for seven people, with plans to house more.

The program aims to help 75 chronically homeless people. The recipients will be provided rental subsidies through the Chicago Housing Authority, the Chicago Low-Income Housing Trust Fund and existing Permanent Support Housing providers, according to Mayor Rahm Emanuel's press office.

Lisa Morrison Butler, who was named chairwoman of the task force when it was announced, said the program grew from lessons learned during the city's initiative to house homeless veterans, but the federal funding that helped make that effort successful is missing from this program.

"There is no federal funding this time to support this initiative. And that’s one of the reasons we’re starting off with a pilot," said Butler adding "we're having to be creative" to fund the program.

Earlier this month, Cappleman announced a partnership with Inspiration Corporation to create "A New Home Starter Kit" to help provide those going through the program with necessary items for their new homes. Those interested in donating items can click here for a registry at Target.

"A substantial number of people living on the streets have told me that they became homeless right after they were released from Cook County Jail with no employment or disability in place and no family available to help them start over again," said Cappleman.

"I am pleased that so much is coming together to help those in need. It's a very complex process, but lasting solutions require thoughtful planning with everyone working together," he said.

While some of the residents of the encampments have been adamant about staying in the area, Sasco said he was headed to the South Side for his new home.

"I really don't want to go, but it's a place to live," he said.

Meanwhile, another homeless man, Charles Holder, 47, said he talked to housing advocates about two weeks ago and was told that he'd "have temporary housing until permanent housing is available."

"We haven't seen a car, a van or nothing. No one" since, he said Friday.

But, Holder, who's been living under the Lawrence viaduct for two years and has been homeless for about five years, still has hope.

"We're still waiting. We're still hoping. What else can we do?" he said.

While residents at the Wilson Avenue viaduct said they hadn't seen anyone moved from under the viaduct, residents at the Foster Street viaduct said two people moved out last Monday.

The task force has set July as the deadline to complete the goals of the pilot program.

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