UPTOWN — Activists are demanding that an alderman find a place for the homeless to erect their tents after tent city residents were evicted from Uptown's viaducts.
Led by longtime affordable housing activist Andy Thayer, the group of about 100 staged a protest in front of the 46th Ward Office Monday night, calling on 46th Ward Ald. James Cappleman to end gentrification in the ward, protect affordable housing and stop the "harassment" of homeless people.
"This is going to drag you all the way to your re-election day," Thayer bellowed into his megaphone during Monday night's protest. Last October, Thayer was one of three people escorted from Cappleman's 46th Ward office in handcuffs.
The protest comes just after homeless people were evicted from Uptown's tent city under the Wilson and Lawrence avenue viaducts at Lake Shore Drive last week.
Thayer, founder of the Gay Liberation Network, said Cappleman and the city are attacking the vulnerable in the ward.
"Ald. Cappleman and the City of Chicago has used the excuse of the eviction of people from the Lake Shore Drive viaducts to basically lay out a policy that people are not allowed to pitch tents any place in the city of Chicago if they’re homeless," he said.
While the Tent City homeless have been harder to keep track of since the eviction, residents reported last week their lives were in "disarray" as they tried to protect their possessions and continue with their daily lives.
The activist demanded a place for the homeless to erect their tents until they're housed permanently.
"We all live in Chicago. We know what the weather is going to be like in just a month or two's time — let alone the middle of January. People need tents if they’re going to be able to sleep outside," Thayer said.
The alderman did emerge from his office and offer to answer residents' questions as police officers manned the door Monday night, but he was met by jeers from the activists gathered outside.
Cappleman and the city's Department of Family and Support Services have been taking action to help those who live under the viaducts access food, shelter, mental health services, addiction treatment and medical care, the alderman's office said Monday.
Before the eviction, a city service fair was held to help homeless people who had camped out under the viaducts, specifically providing placement in shelters, including North Side Housing and Support Services, Cornerstone and Pacific Garden Mission.
But Thayer said North Side Housing's battle to stay open last winter is an examples of the alderman's affordable housing hypocrisy. The men's shelter is now being touted as an option for those evicted from the viaducts, but Cappleman did "absolutely nothing" to help the shelter secure funds, the program's executive director Richard Ducatenzeiler said.
While Thayer has been a critic of the alderman for years, other supporters had a simpler war to wage.
"I'm here in support of people having a basic place to live," said Matthew Amador, 37, of Edgewater. "It's an important thing to keep on your mind because Chicago has a history of displacement."
Yiran Zhang, of ANSWER Chicago, said she is inspired by the tent city residents' fight to stay in Uptown.
"The least we can do is support them," she said. "We have so much we can be doing for these people, and we’re not."
Last summer, the 23-year-old wept with joy when she saw the tent city outside the former Stewart School, but the emotions turned sour after the residents were evicted last September, she said.
"I cried a little bit because I thought it was so beautiful that in Chicago they allowed people who are homeless to set up tents and live just to have some kind of measure of protection against the cold or the elements," she said.
That loss, coupled with the $15.8 million in TIF funds for a luxury high-rise at Clarendon and Montrose, enraged her, she said.
"Uptown isn’t a neighborhood where people go to live in luxury housing. It’s a neighborhood for people. It’s a community," she said.