Homeless continue their battle for right to live in “Tent City”
Photo by Jes Scheinpflug

CHICAGO — Chicago’s North Side alderman, James Cappleman, has come under fire after frequently ordering the removal of homeless individuals from locations in his 46th Ward. It’s been over a week since the official eviction of inhabitants living in “Tent City.”

The encampment is a well-known homeless community under the viaducts at Lawrence and Wilson Avenue in Chicago. Since the city ordered the eviction, which it claims was necessitated by required renovation of crumbling infrastructure, organizers have come out to help transfer residents to other locations. Several volunteers have showed up with cars and moving trucks in hopes of finding another long-term public space for the inhabitants, who have accosted and relocated daily by The Chicago Police Department.

Cappleman has been accused of leading efforts to drive out the homeless community and people of color from his jurisdiction. Since the growing popularity of the Uptown neighborhood began driving up property values, people of color have slowly been gentrified out of the north side neighborhood. Nearly 2,200 white individuals have moved into to the area since the early 2000’s, leading to a shift in the residential demographics. Additionally, several of the community’s resources have been eliminated to make room for luxury developments, including the shutdown of hospitals and mental health facilities that so many low-income residents relied upon.

Many have blamed the alderman for prioritizing development projects that don’t benefit the local population. Among the list of many grievances: Cappleman has been known to target social service centers serving the ward’s poor for zoning and code violations in an attempt to shut them down. He has also previously attempted to stop the Salvation Army from feeding poor people in the ward, claiming that it was attracting needy populations to his ward. One of his first acts as alderman was the removal of basketball hoops from the ward’s playlots. Cappleman claimed the popular spots for black youth “attracted gangs.”

Now the alderman has refocused his efforts on driving out the last of those who don’t align with his long-term goals of “renovations” for the community. On September 26, 2016, after Tent City inhabitants had already been relocated multiple times, James Cappleman collaborated with police and the Stewart School developer’s construction contractor to close down and evict the homeless individuals that had peacefully camped out in an unoccupied lot.

Photo by Jes Scheinpflug

One organizer, Jes Scheinpflug a member of the Gay Liberation Network witnessed, firsthand, the continual harassment of homeless folks. According to Scheinpflug, it became quickly apparent that the residents of Tent City were not welcomed anywhere in the city. After they were pushed out of from under the viaducts on the morning of Monday September 18th, the encampment was moved slightly west; right off Marine Drive. However, they were accosted less than 24 hours later when police officers and the Chicago Department of Transportation officials came to remove them again.
Streets and Sanitation crews confiscated about a dozen tents from the new site, claiming that they were stationed on an “active construction site.” By the end of the week they had been moved to a new location practically every day, at one point having relocated four times in just 48 hours. “Most people don’t want any issues, many say they want to do this the right way” says Scheinpflug “but they need to be told where they can go.”

A number of organizers camped out in front of Alderman Cappleman’s office Monday night to protest the “purge” of homeless individuals in the community. Scheinpflug noted that the crowd displayed a diverse range of politics, especially among activists. “When it comes to beliefs and religions and organizing tactic we are all so different, but we keep showing up together because we believe in Tent City.” Cappleman made a brief appearance outside, where he was shouted down, before disappearing back inside his office.

Many organizers have stated that they are not interested in speaking with the alderman, as conveyed during the chants of “we want results, not words” outside of his office. “The reality is people need services and houses, and Cappleman needs to stop diverting funding,” Scheinpflug said, pointing out that “while the city claims that it doesn’t have the money to invest in long term housing options, Mayor Rahm Emanuel is quietly pushing a proposal to city council for a 95 million dollar cop academy. Our tax dollars are being invested in ways that are not actually contributing back to our communities.”

For now, the focus remains on putting pressure on the alderman, the Mayor, and other city officials to allocate funding for permanent housing solutions. In the meantime, residents have dealt with the hardships of homelessness as best they can. “They take care of each other,” says Scheinpflug who has watched the way that Tent City inhabitants share resources and provide support. “The things that the city should be doing, they’re doing for each other.”

Video: Demonstrators condemn displacement of Chicago homeless, by Earchiel Johnson



Michelle Zacarias
Michelle Zacarias

Michelle Zacarias was a staff writer at People's World. A graduate of the Univ. of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign, Zacarias invested her time in raising awareness on issues of social justice and equality. Michelle self identifies as multi-marginalized: as a Latina, a woman of color and a person with disabilities.