‘We’re not monsters,’ just hungry, says one of the folks booted from the old Weiss Memorial Hospital parking lot
“Ashley” is now living in a tent just east of the hospital but has been told she will have to move to make way for a bird sanctuary.
A flag of the Hawaiian Islands fluttered outside the woman’s tent, set up on a patch of brown grass littered with little mounds of spent charcoal.
“We all have dreams,” muttered the woman, who would only give her name as “Ashley.”
Ashley hasn’t been to Hawaii. On Tuesday, the only trip she was contemplating was from her patch of dried grass just east of Weiss Memorial Hospital in Uptown to — she isn’t sure where.
But a flyer posted late last week let her and two dozen or so other homeless people on the land bounded by Wilson to the south, Lawrence to the north and Marine to the west that they must move. Again. They say they’ve been told a bird sanctuary is coming.
The way the homeless folks and their supporters see it, they are an “eyesore’ that residents of a soon-to-be-built 12-story, 314-unit building would rather not see spoiling their Lake Michigan waterfront views.
“At the same time they are building expensive apartments for rich people across the street ... they are building a natural area. We love nature. We love birds. … What we are against is the continued harassment and displacement of people who are already using this park as a kind of sanctuary,” said Adam Gottlieb, an organizer with the Chicago Union of the Homeless.
Last week, police removed protesters who’d been occupying the site of the planned high-rise — a former Weiss parking lot — with some being detained and issued citations, organizers of the protest and police said.
So Ashley and her fellow protesters set up their tents on the grass just east of Marine. There’s a makeshift tent in the center of it all where people have dropped off food and cleaning supplies. A fence of yellow caution tape fluttered between tree trunks Tuesday.
The campers say they want permanent, affordable housing. Instead, they say, the city has mostly offered only a waiting list for public housing. A spokesman for the city’s Department of Family and Support Services could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
“The people living out in the parks and I both want the same thing. They deserve housing, and we both agree that housing is a human right,” Ald. James Cappleman (46th) said in a statement Tuesday.
“Aldermanic offices cannot offer or provide those services directly. However, we do coordinate with DFSS and [the Chicago Department of Housing], along with other social services to assist these individuals with housing and other supports. I do want to highlight that each ward was provided with $100,000 for special projects, and my entire amount is focused on creating innovative solutions to address chronic homelessness.”
If they can’t get housing, they want to be left alone, Ashley and others say. Ashley has made a home for herself inside a little gray tent, where she’s treated to competing choruses of cicadas and the roar of Lake Shore Drive traffic. A girl gave her a fluffy red cushion in the shape of a strawberry that she uses as a pillow. There’s a padlock on the outside of Ashley’s tent, but it’s broken.
Ashley, 32, said she’s been homeless since age 14 and has lived all over the city. She never knew her parents and was abused in foster care, she said. A half-inch scar cuts across the bridge of her nose — a permanent reminder of being jumped by five men while she was sleeping on a bench on the South Side.
She said she’ll probably move to the Wilson viaduct if she’s told to pack up and move on. But she doesn’t think she should have to.
“They tell us we can move somewhere else, and then the next day that’s a problem and the next day that’s a problem,” she said. “Where are we supposed to go? Are you going to push us to the edge of the world?”
She added: “We’re not monsters. We’re just starving and hungry.”