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Tent City Moves West Of Viaducts, But City Says Homeless Can't Stay

By Josh McGhee | September 18, 2017 8:58am | Updated on September 19, 2017 8:32am
 About 25 tents flanked Wilson Avenue around 7 a.m. Monday as city officials arrived for the scheduled eviction of the Wilson and Lawrence viaducts. 
Tent City Uptown viaducts cleared
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UPTOWN — A group of homeless people who had been living under the Wilson Avenue viaduct in Uptown moved down the street in advance of getting evicted by city crews — but the city confiscated some of their tents and threatened to arrest anyone who stayed after 10 p.m.

At 7 a.m. Monday, 25 tents flanked Wilson Avenue west of the viaduct as city officials arrived for the scheduled eviction after a judge ruled the residents of the tent encampment have no constitutional right to live under the viaducts.

The Monday deadline came as the city plans to repair the Wilson and Lawrence avenue bridges and add a bike lane to the sidewalk. 

The homeless moved their tents to a grassy parkway between the street and busy Wilson Avenue.

But police officers and Chicago Department of Transportation officials warned the homeless that the new tents lined up along Wilson would be removed because they were erected on an active construction site.

And by Monday afternoon, Streets and Sanitation crews had removed about a dozen tents from the new site, tossing them in flatbed trucks. A city representative said the owners of the tents will be able to pick up the tents later. 

While the Department of Family and Support Services has offered viaduct residents three shelter options, the city told the judge it was only able to guarantee space at Pacific Garden Mission, 1458 S. Canal St.

Tent city residents said they'd prefer going to Cook County Jail rather than go to Pacific Garden Mission, said Ryne Poelker, an organizer for Uptown Tent City Organizers.

"The city's solution is to put people out of sight and out of mind," he said, adding the residents were exercising their First Amendment right by protesting "on the public way."

Monday afternoon, about a dozen residents still remained in the park area. The stragglers would likely head to Pacific Garden Mission, said Jesse Tolwinski, who spent time at the shelter before and refused to return.

"It's the worst place they can take you. It's a disgusting place. I spent a lot of time in Pacific Garden and that's not a safe place," he said. He said residents have to wait in line to use the bathroom or eat at the shelter — which isn't always safe.

The Lawrence Avenue viaduct and Wilson Avenue viaduct are both on the list of "most traveled structurally deficient bridges in Illinois." 

Both bridges were built in 1933 and are crossed about 100,000 times per day by motorists.

RELATED: Uptown's Tent Cities Preparing To Evacuate Viaducts As 30-Day Notice Issued