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Ward Politics Wed Jul 22 2009

Homeless "Sweeps" in Edgewater

The Chi-Town Daily News reports on mixed reactions from the Edgewater community over homeless "sweeps" of neighborhood parks.

While understandably wanting to keep neighborhood parks clean and free of crime, it's frustrating to hear residents talk about homeless people as if they should be rats targeted for extermination by city crews. Instead of helping to address the problems underlying homelessness (substance abuse, mental health issues, lack of sustainable employment), many seem to miss the point that with a few false steps and a lack of family support, it could be them sleeping on a park bench.

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m / July 24, 2009 11:50 AM

While it's obvious more needs to be done to help homeless people, I read this article and found no quote from anyone calling for their slaughter by poisoning. What problem do you specifically have with the enforcement of a curfew everyone is supposed to abide by? What would you do? Would you try to distinguish between the "good" homeless people and the "bad" ones? Where is the quote from any residents who "talk about homeless people as if they should be rats targeted for extermination by city crews"?Are you in 5th grade? I think James Cappleman's response in the comments of the ChiTown Daily News article is perfect, spot-on. Your enabling would turn the lakefront into a camp for homeless from all over the city to enjoy. Will you pay for and replace the trees they hack down for kindling? Will you pick up their poop?

Dennis Fritz / July 24, 2009 1:41 PM

Interesting article. Interesting, and familiar.

If you really want to see hostility to the the homeless up close and personal, make a habit of attending your local block club meeting. You'll find it enlightening. Most block club members are property owners, and for many of them (not all), people who don't own, don't count. Period.

Consciously or not, many property owners feel they and others like them are the only ones who comprise "the community" in any meaningful sense. Everyone else--poor people, the homeless, minorities, immigrants--are part of "the problem." And the solution is always the same: purge the problematic people and replace them with more owners.

Even being a renter is enough to make some owners wish you'd go away. Not because you yourself are a problem, but because the rental housing you inhabit draws people who might be. These folks may chirp about "diversity," and may even tolerate a bit of it if they feel it enhances their lifestyle. They might appreciate the fact they can get authentic Indian food on Devon, for example. However, there is one kind of diversity most owners will not tolerate: diversity of income levels. In order to get their approval, you have to be middle-class or above. Otherwise, prepare to be purged.

m / July 24, 2009 2:29 PM

Dennis, what block clubs have you experienced this behavior and attitude you describe? What neighborhoods?

A few years ago I lived at Rockwell and Leland. I joined GRO (Greater Rockwell Organization) and everyone was thrilled that me and another guy (both renters) were becoming new members that night. "We got two renters!" said one woman. Another person told me they were thrilled to get renters because most people in the neighborhood were, in fact, renters but they didn't join block clubs because they think they won't be welcomed. I now belong to EPIC (Every Person is Concerned) in Edgewater and have noticed none of this sentiment you describe. It may exist, but I find it hard to imagine at the scale you describe. Are you sure you're not letting one experience color your opinion on this issue?

Dennis Fritz / July 24, 2009 5:35 PM

M, I was describing the impressions I got from attending block club meetings in the Rogers Park, Uptown, and Lakeview neighborhoods over a period of years, beginning in the mid-1990s. No, I am not basing my opinion on a single experience. How did I know someone was going to raise that objection?

Sure, there are exceptions. Block club, neighborhood association, community group--these are imprecise terms used to describe a broad range of different groups, which vary significantly in size, composition, and perspective. Groups with diametrically opposed agendas often operate in the same neighborhood. In Uptown, groups like the Organization of the Northeast (ONE) and the Heartland Institute have long championed affordable housing, cultural diversity and public services for the needy. Meanwhile, the group Fix Wilson Yard recently filed suit to halt a development project they fear will bring too much low income housing (read:poor blacks) into "their" neighborhood.

Both extremes exist, with plenty in-between. In any case, I think your story supports my case. While GRO welcomed you as a renter, they made it clear renters often felt unwelcome at other block clubs' meetings. I am just saying I think I know why.

m / July 25, 2009 12:05 AM

When I read your first post, I thought, "bet he's a ONE supporter." And last time I checked, people opposed to WY didn't like the fact that TIF money was being siphoned away from schools to build overpriced low-income housing in an area already saturated with it. Ah what's the point. You nutjobs are undebatable. What a shitty thing to say -- "you support us or you hate poor blacks." Nice divisive attitude.

Dennis Fritz / July 25, 2009 2:43 AM

No question, the problem of TIFs siphoning off much needed revenue is real. According to the office of Cook County Clerk David Orr, TIFs sucked up about $500 million in property tax dollars last year alone. That's money that didn't go to schools, fire and police, basic infrastructure maintenance, etc.

Know here the bulk of TIF money goes? To subsidize upscale real estate development.

The Fix Wilson Yard crowd had no objection to the original plan. They didn't care that the TIF was short-changing the schools. They only started complaining after several companies pulled out of the project, leaving Holsten as the sole developer. They knew full well that Holsten had been a developer of low-income housing, and went ballistic.

Look, I am a white guy, born on the South Side. Heck, maybe you are, too. But if you're not, let me tell you how we white guys like to operate nowadays.

We use coded language. Say you hear a white guy say something like, "there's too high a concentration of low income housing in that area." That's code for, "there's too many niggers living there already. Let's not bring in any more."

Oh, we'll deny it. We'll deny, deny, deny that race is a factor. Or class. If anyone tries to call us out on it, we'll call them nutjobs. We'll call them divisive. We'll throw up our hands and say, "you're undebatable." But mark my words: without fail, we'll take positions on the issues that invariably result in the blacks, the Latinos, the poor disappearing and being replaced with people like us. You can bet your last dollar on it.

I suspect maybe you have.

m / July 26, 2009 12:34 AM

You just said more about yourself there than me pal. Godspeed with your generalizing self.

Dennis Fritz / July 27, 2009 12:00 PM

No, I didn't.

Look, you are the one who called Timothy Morin a 5th-grader and asked if he wanted to scoop up other people's shit. You are the one who said you knew I would turn out to be a ONE supporter, as if the problem with that were self-evident. You came into this discussion with your back up and fists forward, ready to fight. Don't whine now just because you got one.

Timothy Morin / July 27, 2009 12:21 PM

ennis & M, thanks for your comments.

The important thing to remember, from my point of view, is how shameful it is as a community that we do not try to stand together with our less fortunate and needy members of society, and instead exacerbate the problem by trying to pretend like they don't exist, or that they don't belong any where near us "normal" folk.

The bottom line is that most homeless people are there because they were either 1) let out of mental institutions in the 1980s by Ronald Reagan or 2) either lost their job or never had access to the tools that would allow one to succeed in as a normal, functioning member of society.

It's the typical American response, one that Daley personifies: don't solve the problem, just put some window dressing on it. How can we accuse people of sleeping in parks when we don't give them viable opportunities? Sure, shelters are an option, but they are terribly underfunded, dirty, and cramped and usually staffed by religious nutcases.

Take a look at this video and tell me it doesn't make you angry. This is the typical way our society looks at the homeless, like rats in the gutters.

Dennis Fritz / July 27, 2009 1:15 PM

Tim, I think what you say goes to the crux of this argument: what kind of problem is homelessness, and whose problem is it?

One school of thought holds that the "homeless problem" belongs to the homeless themselves and refers to their lack of shelter. Another school holds that the "homeless problem" belongs to everyone else--i.e. the term refers to the fear, disgust, and anxiety people better-off people feel when the homeless are visible at street level.

To adherents of the second school, treating the "homeless problem" as one roughly analogous to garbage disposal makes perfect sense. It flows directly from their conception of what the problem is. No, the homeless are not to be literally "exterminated." But they are supposed to go away, to disappear, to become invisible again.

Where do they go? Maybe into shelters. Maybe to some other neighborhood. Maybe to Hell. Who cares? To adherents of the second shool, where they go or what happens to them doesn't matter. They are not people but negative functions, a "bad element" to be purged. The point is, wherever they are, they aren't "here."

mike / July 28, 2009 12:59 AM

Fight Club -- me and Dennis in the alley. Christ, I'm with you man but your tactics suck. Me and a good friend have always dreamed, via our "when I'm King" conversations, that homeless people should be given nice apartments and be given the free tax-payer funded tools to thrive ... art supplies, job counseling, et al. I think our country has many tragedies but one of the most shameless is that people, human beings, are literally ignored, part of the urban backdrop. It causes me great despair. I volunteer and I help an HIV+ woman in recovery from drug addiction in Uptown learn how to read. She's just a loser I guess to most people who see her but she is a person and even though I fee like I'm getting nowhere with her sometimes I know the Saturday meetings are huge for her. We can afford to help these people. They are my neighbors. I bought my place 5 years ago to live in, not profit from, and I live in a diverse neighborhood that I do not want to change. My girlfriend is from Spain, one of those *evil* socialist countries that actually takes care of people. I was in Madrid last week and the whole time I was in that city of 3 million people I saw 2 homeless people. Dennis, I wasn't crying because the argument got tough. I think my assumptions about you were spot-on while you did the tired "you're with us or you hate blacks" argument. Whatever. Ugh. Grow up, ass. That strategy is never going to work. We could argue about Wilson Yard (most of what you said was, in my opinion, complete bullshit -- do a Google search) but at the end of the day, it's fruitless. We probably have more in common in opinion with each other than we know, but you appear to be following the doomed Shiller demonizing playbook. Good luck with that. Who are you going to get on your side if you demonize anybody "evil" enough to, heaven forbid, buy a house? You're right -- I tend to be back to the wall, fists out (apologies to Tim about the 5th grade comment).

Shit Park Neighbor / October 28, 2009 6:01 AM

For God Sakes people, stop making a single issue about where the homeless, along with every other citizen in Chicago, are forbidden to sleep into the sociological cure for all ills. Everyone in Chicago, has have for years, been forbidden from being in the parks in the wee after hours. Why? Rapes, Murders, Assaults, Vandalism, and yes, sex acts and shitting on public grounds that the kiddies use in the morning.

Have murders, Criminal Sexual assaults, rapes, child molestations, vandalism, prostitution, voluntary sex acts, and shit piles been occurring in the Uptown parks at night? Yes, and that is the issue.

But where, where, where o where will the homeless go if not for Uptown's parks? They can avail themselves of the 5000 local shelter and transitional housing spaces. But, as we all know, this is not about shelter space because the park dwellers sleep in the park even when shelter space is readily available.

The real question is where will they drink and abuse substances, for that is the primary reason that the chronic "homeless" refuse to go into housing overnight. Drinking and substance abuse is not allowed in shelters and that is simply not acceptable to those who prefer their substances to housing.

Many of these "homeless" get $660 per month from Social Security to pay for their housing but spend it on substance abuse instead. (Crazy checks are long gone but the disabled with coexisting substance abuse problems still get SSI checks) The Lawrence Ave. Social Security office is supposed to enforce the federal SSI law that requires them to have a fiduciary "designated payee" who gets the money and ensures that it is applied to housing. That is not happening in Uptown for several reasons. The Lawrence Ave SSI office is simply not fulfilling its responsibility in assigning designated payees and we have some really bad organizational designated payees (C4, Jesus People, etc.) that wrongfully take their $64 monthly commission and simply hand the money over to the SSI recipients to blow on substance abuse.

So, the issue really is, "Do Uptown and Edgewater owe people public places to abuse substances and exercise bad related bad behaviors?"

Acajudi / November 22, 2009 9:25 PM

We could open small dormitories for the homeless. They can work cleaning the streets etc, for a daily stipend. People need to have a place to shower, wash clothing and get a decent meal. No one should be on the streets.

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