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Activists Celebrate Uptown Homeless Shelter Remaining Open

By Josh McGhee | December 23, 2016 3:19pm | Updated on December 26, 2016 9:48am
 Activists celebrate the Uptown men's shelter that will remain open for
Activists celebrate the Uptown men's shelter that will remain open for "years to come," according to Ald. James Cappleman.
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DNAinfo/Josh McGhee

UPTOWN — Activists celebrated a "small victory" Friday morning, a day after the city announced it had found more money to keep an Uptown shelter open just hours before it was scheduled to close.

While keeping the shelter in the lower level of the Preston Bradley Center, 941 W. Lawrence Ave., is a win for activists, it's not a victory for some of those who are now claiming credit for it, said Andy Thayer, an Uptown Tent City organizer.

"It's not a victory of the politicians. It's not a victory of the wealthy. It's a victory for the people of Uptown," Thayer said at a press conference Friday morning. "It was community pressure, the people who demanded relentlessly that the shelter stay open."

While Thayer said the activists were celebrating Friday, "we know it's just the first step" and securing permanent housing for the homeless in the shelter and outside it "is the next step."

Thursday, 46th Ward Ald. James Cappleman's office and the city's Department of Family and Support Services announced the shelter, which is run by North Side Housing and Support Services, would stay open through the winter.

"We were able to find a generous donor to fill in the shelter’s budget gap for the coming years, and the city agreed to renew the service contract that had lapsed. The shelter will once again resume service at their 72-bed capacity," Cappleman said in a newsletter Friday morning.

Cappleman said he was happy to make the announcement, but those close to the situation cast doubt on his dedication.

At a protest in October that ended in arrests for Thayer, Ryne Poelker and Marc Kaplan, the activists laid out a list of demands for the alderman, including supporting the shelter.

Cappleman responded that he would "work with our state reps to get that funding."

On Monday , Richard Ducatenzeiler, the shelter's executive director, said Cappleman did "absolutely nothing" to save the shelter, which has been searching for more money to stay open for months.

"I’ve been respectable toward him to try to maintain a good relationship with the alderman’s office,” Ducatenzeiler said.

The shelter had no comment on the deal that will allow it to stay open.

Keeping the shelter open could save some people from joining a tent city that has popped up under the viaducts in Uptown, some homeless said.

"If that shelter closed, our numbers would've doubled," said Louis Jones, 49, who sometimes sleeps in a tent.

Though they were successful in stopping the shelter's closure, activists haven't been able to stop street-cleanings under the viaducts, which they've described as harassment.

On Friday, residents of the encampments piled their belongings and tents in the snow so the sidewalks could be cleaned.

Family and support services officials said they regularly engage the residents of the viaducts, but they are also "committed to semi-regular cleanings of viaducts to ensure sanitary conditions for those at the viaducts as well as the surrounding community."

"Today’s cleaning reflects our streamlined winter cleaning schedule. As winter continues, we will continue to monitor weather conditions, postponing cleanings as necessary, to ensure the safety of those remaining under the viaducts,” a statement from family and support services read.

Jones said the cleanings were just another obstacle for the group to deal with, along with "chasing food" and items to stay warm, such as blankets. The tradesman said he's trying to focus on getting a job.

"I can work, but I can't do it when I live in a tent," Jones said. "I live here. I don't want to live here. This is not a place to live. It's a viaduct.

"We're starving. We're hungry. And that's not right."

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