CHICAGO (CBS) — As the city prepares to renovate the Lake Shore Drive viaducts at Wilson and Lawrence, the dozens of homeless who live in tents there are preparing to be evicted — they fear, for good.
City officials plan to add bike lanes and wrought iron fencing under the viaducts where the homeless find relative comfort and safety in the form of tent cities on the wide sidewalks. They keep warm, to an extent, thanks to donated propane heaters; and they receive regular deliveries of donated supplies, clothing, and meals.
Mark Saulys, one of the nearly 75 people who call the viaducts home, said the new bike lanes and fencing would leave no room for them to set up tents on the sidewalks without blocking them entirely. Now, their tents still leave room for people to pass through on the sidewalk.
“It seems like they’re intending to make it impossible for anybody to lay down there again,” he said. “We’re trying to pressure the city to house the people, rather than toss them out with nowhere to go.”
The homeless who live in the tent cities repeatedly have clashed with city officials in recent years, in particular when the city sends crews to clean every other week, forcing them to remove their belongings. They have said the cleanings are a form of harassment.
“There’s a very intolerant element in the community, and they’re very virulently intolerant of us. They just don’t friggin’ like us. They don’t want to look at us. They don’t find us aesthetically pleasing,” he said.
Saulys said the homeless don’t question the need to repair the crumbling concrete viaducts built in the 1930s, but they hope the city will offer them more than a simple order to move on.
“We’re trying to get the city to house the people. That’s really the only solution for homelessness today, is what’s called the housing-first model. In the current job and housing market, it’s really hard to rent someplace,” he said.
The housing-first model focuses on providing homes for those who need them before connecting them with the services they need to get back on their feet.