West Loop homeless on edge as city threatens to discard donated tents

‘We’re waiting for the city to come with a wrecking crew and come and confiscate the tents,” said Willie Parker, 66, who lives in a tent in a Fulton Street viaduct.

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Willie Parker, 66, who is experiencing homelessness and lives in an orange tent under a viaduct on West Fulton Street between Clinton and Canal streets in West Loop, stands beside his tent. The City of Chicago tagged the tents, which were donated by Andy Robledo, with notices stating they will be removed from the area if the tents are not cleared on November 3 at 9:30 a.m. “at that time or any later day or time.” Robledo and his supporters gathered that morning to stop the potential eviction.

Willie Parker, 66, lives in an orange tent under a viaduct on West Fulton Street between Clinton and Canal streets in the West Loop. City of Chicago workers tagged the tents with notices stating they would be removed.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Willie Parker woke up braced for action Thursday morning.

The 66-year-old lives in a tent in the West Loop. The week before, he found a sticker attached to it that seemed to indicate that if it wasn’t cleared that morning, it would be removed by the city.

“We’re waiting for the city to come with a wrecking crew and come and confiscate the tents,” Parker said.

That’s why he was on edge, as were the dozen others living in the underpass on West Fulton Street, between Clinton and Canal streets. They were joined by a group of people who showed up in support.

“They’re not taking these tents away unless they offer these people housing right now,” Andy Robledo said, addressing the group. Robledo supplied the high-quality tents Parker and the others live in.

The stickers attached to the tents read that “storing personal property on the public way” was prohibited and if the personal property was not removed, it would be “discarded by the city.” Removal would occur on Thursday at 9:30 a.m. “or any later day or time,” according to the stickers.

Andy Robledo speaks during a gathering to stop city workers from evicting people who live in tents under a viaduct on West Fulton Street in the West Loop. City workers had tagged the tents, which were donated by Robledo, with notices stating they would be removed on Thursday at 9:30 a.m. “or any later day or time.”

Andy Robledo speaks during a gathering Thursday to stop city workers from evicting people who live in tents under a viaduct on West Fulton Street in the West Loop.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

The group of about 20 people held up signs in support. A few played songs on guitar and passed around coffee and donuts. But ultimately, the city did not remove the tents.

An official from the city’s Department of Family and Support Services said the notes were poorly worded and that the department intended only to remove empty tents.

“We’ve won the battle, but this is not over,” Robledo said, before leading the group to where the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless was hosting a news conference.

From there, the two groups marched together to City Hall, where they delivered a letter addressed to Mayor Lori Lightfoot.

The letter asked the mayor to meet with the group, update the city’s policies regarding personal property on the public way and make a public statement saying the tents would not be removed.

Lewis Thomas, 54, standing near tents set up under a viaduct on Milwaukee Avenue in the West Loop. He lives in one of the tents.

Lewis Thomas, 54, stands near tents set up under a viaduct in the West Loop. He lives in one of the tents that were recently donated by Andy Robledo, an advocate for homeless people.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Back at Fulton and Clinton, Lewis Thomas nodded in appreciation of the group of supporters gathered at the corner.

“It’s given us the opportunity to see that people care,” the 54-year-old said.

The West Side native, who grew up near Damen and Lake, has lived in the underpass for the last several years. From that location, he said, it’s easier to find both odd jobs and help.

“I love to be able to know that people care, that we’re an equal part of humanity,” he said.

“If being a part of humanity doesn’t matter, then what does?”

Michael Loria is a staff reporter at the Chicago Sun-Times via Report for America, a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster the paper’s coverage of communities on the South and West sides.

A row of tents set up under a West Loop viaduct.

A row of tents set up under a West Loop viaduct had been tagged for removal by the city on Thursday, but no action was taken.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

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