Thousands of homeless people live in Chicago, Loydell Roberson was telling a group of reporters Wednesday, when he offered this gem about why he and his homeless neighbors get more attention:
“Tent City just happens to be on one of the main licks.”
Yes, Tent City, as some have taken to calling Roberson’s place of encampment, is indeed on one of the “main licks,” not that I’d ever thought of Lake Shore Drive in exactly those terms.
Roberson, 62, lives with his wife in a tent under the overpass at Lawrence Avenue. He says both have cancer, but can’t find housing because he was convicted of rape in 1974. I realize that makes him a less sympathetic figure, but that’s the real world.
Roberson arrived under the viaducts this spring, too late to get on the city’s list of 75 homeless people chosen to receive housing under a city pilot program aimed at the chronically homeless under the viaducts.
Now, he’s among many wondering how the city plans to deal with those left behind when that program comes to an end this fall.
Lisa Morrison Butler, the city’s commissioner of Family and Support Services, came to Margate Park in Uptown on Wednesday to give homeless residents a progress report on the city’s efforts to house them.
I’d seen her make the same presentation a few months earlier to an audience dominated by the people who live in the surrounding neighborhoods, and I found it instructive that the homeless audience was far more polite and less demanding than the neighborhood group.
None of the viaduct residents got angry, even as Butler delivered the bad news the city is going to subject them to weekly “cleanings” for the next six weeks and will only decide then whether to allow them to keep their tents this winter.
As I explained Sunday, such cleanings are occasionally necessary, but when performed at a rate of once a week can serve as a form of harassment to keep the homeless from getting too comfortable. The homeless people respectfully expressed those concerns.
Butler told them the area was in need of a “deep cleaning” after a long period without cleanings this summer that allowed some of the homeless people to accumulate “oversized items” such as “Barcaloungers.”
The furniture has been a particular bone of contention with area residents who don’t like to see homeless people, well, making themselves at home.
One of the homeless people, Louis Jones, told Butler he can understand why neighbors don’t like to see the clutter building up on the sidewalks.
“We will get on top of it,” he promised her.
Later, Jones told me: “We’re homeless, right? It’s only a temporary thing. Everybody act like they want to live there. The reality of the situation is you can’t do it. We don’t want any trouble.”
Not all the homeless people agree they shouldn’t be allowed to have chairs, but after the meeting, they were discussing how to get the other homeless to comply.
“We have the same rights,” Jones said. “We just have to act like responsible residents. I hear that lady’s voice. She’s trying.”
I share the view “that lady,” Butler, is trying. There’s only a question of whether others in power will run out of patience with her approach.
Butler acknowledged there is a “difference of opinion among some very important folks about whether tents are or are not allowed.”
She said city lawyers take the position the tents are illegal. The Chicago Coalition for the Homeless disagrees. Butler said the tents will be re-evaluated after Oct. 14.
For now, Tent City will keep its exclusive address on one of Chicago’s “main licks.”Tweets by @MarkBrownCST