Emmitt Grimm’s Converse All Star shoes remained outside his tent beneath the Wilson Avenue viaduct Thursday morning — proof that he listens to his “missus.”
Inside — along with a can of Raid bug spray for the gnats — there was an assortment of bottled condiments, jumbled clothes, a bedspread and a toy poodle.
In less than two weeks, one way or another, it likely will all be gone. Grimm, 64, pointed to the orange paper sign taped to a post near his tent that reads: “NOTICE. SITE WILL BE CLOSED FOR CONSTRUCTION.”
Grimm and many of the others who live in this viaduct — as well as one at Lawrence Avenue — say they won’t leave without a fight. That fight escalated Thursday, when protesters drifted out into the southbound lanes of Lake Shore Drive, briefly stopping traffic.
“We ain’t going nowhere,” said Grimm, who has lived under the Wilson viaduct off and on for more than a year.
A homeless woman in a wheelchair sat out in the middle of Lake Shore Drive, waving her aluminum cane as protesters chanted, “Housing is a human right!”
Police hauled away tents that protesters had set up along the median, and also made three arrests when protesters refused to leave.
“We are fighting for housing,” said viaduct resident Louis Jones. “We’re not fighting for money. We’re not fighting about food. … We’re fighting for some place to live. Shelters aren’t enough. They are inadequate.”
Many of the dozens of people who call the shadowy viaducts home complain the city has repeatedly gone back on promises to find homes for them. They say the situation is dire, now that work is scheduled to begin later this month to rehab the decaying bridges over Wilson and Lawrence.
As reported by Chicago Sun-Times columnist Mark Brown, efforts to find housing for the viaduct dwellers resulted in other homeless individuals moving in to take their places on the sidewalk.
“We’re trying to get them to house the people instead of just tossing them out,” Mark Saulys told Brown in June. At the time, he was living in a tent under the Wilson viaduct and has helped try to organize his fellow tent dwellers.
Carol Aldape and Thomas Gordon, who live under the viaducts, filed a lawsuit seeking class action status on Thursday in Cook County Circuit Court to prevent the removal of the homeless, according to court documents.
The suit seeks to prevent the city from starting repairs to the viaducts until a permanent housing alternative is provided for the 40-70 people who live there; and from making changes that will make it impossible for the homeless to return when the redesign is complete.
Contributing: Matthew Hendrickson