CHICAGO – As we went to press, the homeless residents of the Wilson and Lawrence avenue viaducts were being moved, and, in some cases, having their tents and other belongings confiscated by the city. A forced eviction of Uptown Tent City was planned for September 18 in order to shorten sidewalks and create bike lanes. Multiple lawsuits are pending.
“Housing is a human right / we won’t go without a fight!” chanted Uptown Tent City residents turned activists as they erected tents and blocked traffic for over 30 minutes on the southbound lanes of Lake Shore Drive around 9:30 a.m. on Thursday, September 7 in the Uptown neighborhood on the city’s North Side, just south of the Wilson Avenue viaduct, one of two locations where homeless Chicagoans have historically gathered and organized into a community known as Uptown Tent City.
The purpose of the protest was to send a clear and simple message: “We just want housing, like everybody else,” said Keith Gini, resident of the tent city under the Wilson viaduct. “None of us want to be out here. There’s nobody perfect out here in this world. We’re no different from anybody else. We’re human beings. There’s a lot of us out here that had a good job. Unfortunately, we lost our jobs due to certain things. Some of us got health problems. … I was actually fired from my last job because I was having too many problems with my health.”
As the police arrived, Carol Aldape began singing “This Land is Your Land” from her wheelchair in the center of the Drive. Finally, four people were taken away by police for obstructing traffic (technically only three were “arrested”). This civil disobedience action, the first of its kind led by the current residents of Uptown Tent City, came in the wake of intensifying negotiations between City Hall and the homeless movement.
Residents, activists, and neighbors of Uptown Tent City are standing up to demand in court and on the street that homeless communities and individuals be immediately housed. Another resident under the Wilson viaduct, Lewis “Abdul” Jones said, “A lot of people are struggling down there to maintain their livelihood. And what they [people hearing about this action] should strongly consider is to come and support us, because they [the city] act like that viaduct is a home for us. We don’t want to be there. It’s a refuge. … But the city’s jumping down on everybody, trying to get ’em outta there … harassing them, talking about they got to be here to clean every two weeks. For what?”
“Being homeless is not fun,” said Gini. “None of us want to be in this situation, but through certain circumstances that are out of our control, we are.”
On September 14, U.S. District Court Magistrate Judge Sidney Schenkier ruled against the homeless suit to obtain a place to stay, stating that the city has no obligation to house its people and that housing is not a right.