Fireman’s Park homeless residents don’t want city to force them out

“Give us a home or leave us alone,” the residents and others chanted at a press conference held in the park on Tuesday, asking Mayor Lori Lightfoot to direct federal relief money towards housing the homeless.

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Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa spoke at a news conference Tuesday, July 6, 2021 at Fireman’s Park to demand that Mayor Lori Lightfoot stop the planned removal of a homeless encampment from the park, which is set for Friday.

Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa spoke at a news conference Tuesday at Fireman’s Park to demand that Mayor Lori Lightfoot stop the planned removal of a homeless encampment from the park, which is set for Friday.

Sam Heller/Sun-Times

A half-dozen homeless people living in an Avondale park say the city wants to remove them, but the city says that’s not the case.

“Give us a home or leave us alone,” the residents and others chanted at a news conference in Fireman’s Park, where they asked Mayor Lori Lightfoot to direct federal relief money towards housing the homeless.

“It’s just not right what they are doing to us,” said Yefte Santiago Escobar, who has lived in the park for two months. “The people living in this park are good people.”

Residents said city officials had gone to the park a week and a half ago to warn them they would be forced to move. A few days later, city workers placed stickers on their tents to remind them of the impending move, originally, set for Tuesday. Late last week, it was delayed to Friday.

They say they won’t leave then, either — but according to the mayor’s office, they don’t have to leave permanently. The city is cleaning the area, and the homeless residents “are allowed to return after the cleaning is completed,” which should take no more than two hours, according to Alejandra Flores Rebollar, a mayor’s office spokeswoman.

Despite what residents say city officials told them, the city “does not conduct ‘sweeps’ to homeless populations and has not forced anyone to leave the area at Fireman’s Park,” Rebollar said.

While the city has offered to put the residents in homeless shelters, Escobar said there are many safety issues at shelters, and he would rather find another park to live in.

Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th) also spoke at the news conference, joined by representatives from the Chicago Union of the Homeless and Logan Square Neighborhood Association, among others. He wants Lightfoot to direct $125 million in federal COVID-19 relief funds toward housing the homeless.

“Kicking people while they are down is not a solution to homelessness,” Ramirez-Rosa said. “Coming and telling people that they have to take down their tents, their only shelter, is not a solution to homelessness.”

This is not the only instance of the city removing a homeless encampment. But with the city fully reopened and coronavirus restrictions mostly lifted, more such actions have been planned, said Diane O’Connell, Community Lawyer for Chicago Coalition for the Homeless.

“This is happening during such a time of social and economic hardship due to the COVID-19 Pandemic,” O’Connell said. “Things have gotten a little bit better and then the city just jumps right on making these threats to people who have been struggling this past year and for so long before that.”

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