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City, Alderman Host 'Service Fair' At Uptown's Tent City

By Josh McGhee | September 11, 2017 6:06am | Updated on September 11, 2017 8:26am
 Tent City residents will be evicted from the viaducts on Sept. 18.
Tent City residents will be evicted from the viaducts on Sept. 18.
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Jennifer Rottner/ City of Chicago

UPTOWN — Nine months ago, Amber Johnson took a train from New York to Chicago.

Her time in the city has been split between shelters on the South Side and with friends at Uptown's Tent City. Friday, the 18-year-old met with various social service agencies to see what the city offered to break the cycle of homelessness.

"They're good people. It seems like they're trying [to help,] but there's so many homeless people out here," she said.

The "service fair" organized by the Department of Family and Support Services aimed to connect the Tent City residents to "services in the area" and included programs like emergency shelters, mental health treatment centers and substance abuse treatment centers, according to a press release from the department.

Officials from various social service agencies including Northside Housing and Support Services, Cornerstone Community Outreach, Catholic Charities and Salvation Army joined Uptown's alderman at the neighborhood's viaducts to offer help to the residents the City will soon evict.

“Whether you are a senior, a school age child or someone experiencing homelessness, everyone in Chicago deserves access to services and that is what the City is here today to provide,” said Ald. James Cappleman (46th), who was in attendance along with DFSS Commissioner Lisa Morrison Butler.

Friday, the Salvation Army donated meals to the residents who participated in the fair, the same idea that caused the agency to butt heads with the alderman years before.

In 2013, the organization refused to "compromise our mission" after the alderman requested it stop feeding the homeless residents. The disagreement brewed protests, but was quickly resolved.

“Thanks to our strong partnership with the City of Chicago, we are able to serve the most vulnerable in their time of need," said Col. Charles Smith, metropolitan division commander for the agency. “Every day the Salvation Army provides help and hope to thousands of Chicagoans struggling to find a home, a job, food or fight addiction."

The fair comes about a week before the nearly 50 people living under the Lawrence Avenue and Wilson Avenue viaduct will be evicted as the city begins to rehab the viaducts, which are both on the list of "most traveled structurally deficient bridges in Illinois."

While the agencies offered information on shelters, treatment centers and "workforce opportunities," participation dwindled around noon.

"Those are all basically shelters. They're offering programs. I just need a place," said 59-year-old Thomas Gordon, who declined to check out the options offered.

He's lived under the viaducts for about a year and has been saving up for an apartment. With ultites he can afford a rent of about $600, he said.

"I need something affordable. I don't want free housing. I like to cook my own food and I need my privacy," he said.