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Tent City Homeless Must Leave Viaducts By Monday, Judge Rules

By Josh McGhee | September 15, 2017 4:36pm | Updated on September 18, 2017 8:21am
 Uptown Tent City residents will be evicted from Lawrence and Wilson Avenue Viaducts Monday.
Uptown Tent City residents will be evicted from Lawrence and Wilson Avenue Viaducts Monday.
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DNAinfo/Josh McGhee

DIRKSEN FEDERAL BUILDING — Tent City residents will need to find a new home this weekend as a federal judge ruled the city can continue with its planned renovations of the viaducts at Lawrence and Wilson avenues.

Friday afternoon, Judge Sidney Schenkier ruled the residents of the tent encampment have no constitutional right to live under the viaducts. He gave the city the go ahead to carry on with the renovations starting at 7 a.m. Monday.

Attorneys for the residents of the Tent City, who had filed for an injunction to stop the city from clearing out the residents and doing the renovations, were attempting "to fit the square peg of a serious issue (homelessness) into a round hole," Schenkier said.

The initial lawsuit asked for the homeless to be permitted to return to the public area in front of the former Graeme Stewart School, where they were pushed out of in September 2016.

The property was sold to a developer who is building a mixed-use residential and retail building there.

Attorneys then sought an injunction to halt the Monday eviction of the Tent City residents from under the viaducts so the city could renovate them and add a bike lane to the sidewalk.

Executive Director of the Uptown People's Law Center Alan Mills, who represented Uptown Tent City Organizers along with other attorneys, said it was troubling for Schenkier to rule the homeless don't have a constitutional right to housing provided by the government, but he didn't disagree.

"It’s a very troubling ruling and it’s a very troubling fact, [but] the Supreme Court so far… has not held that there is a constitutional right to housing. Other countries recognize such a right. I think there’s a good argument that the Supreme Court should change its mind on that, but so far it has not," he said.

The Department of Family and Support Services has been working to connect the residents to necessary programs and services and will continue to during the construction, the department said in a statement.

The department, "along with partner agencies, have been engaging residents on a regular basis over the last 18 months and more recently, on a daily basis, offering options for shelter and services leading up to the start of construction and will continue to do so through the weekend," the department said in a statement.

While the department has offered three shelters to go to once the viaduct work begins, the city was only able to guarantee space at Pacific Garden Mission, 1458 S. Canal St. in court this week.

No legal option remains for the residents as of this weekend, but the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless has brought a lawsuit against the city arguing the renovations violate the Illinois Homeless Bill of Rights.

"The claim there is the ultimate design of the reconstructed viaduct is designed to prohibit any homeless people from ever returning there. They’re going to put bike paths on the sidewalks so there would not be enough room for homeless people to sleep. That claim is purely under the Homeless Bill of Rights," Mills said.