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Rainbow PUSH visits two homeless camps in Chicago, distributing sleeping bags and pushing for affordable housing in the city

“Sometimes the smaller things are the best things ever,” said Mike, who has been living on the streets for about two years.

Bishop Tavis Grant II, national field director at the Rainbow PUSH Coalition, walks with volunteers and coalition members at a homeless camp, distributing sleeping bags that can be converted into coats.
Bishop Tavis Grant II, national field director at the Rainbow PUSH Coalition, walks with volunteers and coalition members at a homeless camp, distributing sleeping bags that can be converted into coats.
Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Mike was feeding his dog Thursday afternoon and straightening up the area of his tent he considers his living room when he saw TV cameras approaching.

They were following members of Rainbow PUSH as they visited a homeless camp in the 300 block of South Dearborn Street to give out sleeping bags that can be converted into coats.

“Sometimes the smaller things are the best things ever,” said Mike, who has been living on the streets for about two years. “Because you never know what that small thing can do for others.”

Rainbow PUSH said it chose Thursday for the giveaway to mark the 55 years since the Rev. Jessie Jackson came to Chicago and established Operation Bread Basket, which evolved into Rainbow PUSH.

The group visited the Dearborn camp as well as one at 320 S. Cermak Road.

“We recently partnered with a company and organization based in Detroit, the Empowerment Plan of Michigan, who created a jacket/sleeping bag,” explained Bishop Tavis Grant II, a national field director for Rainbow PUSH.

The sleeping bags will help the homeless survive the winter, but he and other coalition members said their long-term goal is much more ambitious.

“It’s our goal to eradicate these tent cities across the city,” said Cameron Barnes, a national youth director at Rainbow PUSH. “We want to create a model that can be recreated and used throughout the nation.

“We don’t want to come back to tent city because we don’t want there to be a tent city,” he added. “Next year, we want to see them in adequate housing.”

One of those staying at the camp identified himself as Mr. Willie, who said he moved to Chicago from Georgia about 20 years ago. He received one of the sleeping bags from the coalition about two months earlier and was glad to get a second.

“I’m 70 years old, and I’ve been homeless off and on for most of my life,” he said. ”But I’ve done all right. I was happy to be able to get a second sleeping bag, the one I have now has saved my life three or four times already.”

Mike also appreciated the sleeping bag but was put off by the cameras.

“I get that it is important to get the word out, and this pushes others to help, but sometimes the cameras are a lot.”