City’s eviction of Lower Wacker homeless camp slows, but doesn’t stop
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City workers proved to be in no big hurry Monday to remove a homeless camp from an area of Lower Wacker Drive known as The Triangle.
Unlike the police show of force used in last summer’s eviction of tent cities at two Uptown viaducts, Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration took a low-key approach this time to shutting down the longtime encampment that occupies a triangular-shaped paved lot just west of Michigan Avenue.
An 8 a.m. deadline for homeless residents to move their belongings came and went with no effort by the city to force their removal.
By midafternoon it was apparent Monday wasn’t the real deadline after all. That now seems to be Friday, which is the new date set for the area to be cleaned by the Department of Streets and Sanitation, although those in charge couldn’t be pinned down.
In the clearest sign the city is serious about closing the encampment, a city contractor began drilling holes in the pavement to erect fence posts around the site — the first step in enclosing the area to keep the homeless people from returning.
As a result, homeless individuals continued to slowly pack their belongings and move voluntarily — many of them relocating just three blocks to the east on the sidewalk of Lower North Water Street.
What’s the difference between them living there or in the Triangle?
Visibility mostly. Relatively few motorists travel on Lower North Water Street compared to busy Lower Wacker.
Another difference, the homeless people would tell you, is that there are many more rats at the new location.
The city says the camp is being closed for the safety of the homeless people, but it’s hard to find anybody on the receiving end of this concern who really believes that to be true.
More likely, the city is responding to pressure from individuals who live and work in the area and are intimidated by the people who hang out in the Triangle.
One of the homeless individuals who moved down the street was Chris Carter. I met him at the Triangle last week.
“This will be my last summer out here,” promised Carter, taking a swig on a plastic Sprite bottle that smelled like it contained something a bit stronger.
Another was a fidgety Charles Hunter, 34, who told me: “I’m bipolar, schizophrenic paranoid. But I’m trying to get my body in the best shape. That’s why I have to breathe outside air.”
Planning on joining that group was Arthur Lee, 62, who stirred from his bed roll at mid-morning and began scraping the remnants of a melted Kit Kat bar off the wrapper, licking the chocolate from his fingers.
“I’m a survivor, sir. Me and her ain’t worried,” said Lee, pointing to a head sticking out from a blanket next to him that belonged to a young woman named Tonya.
Tonya stirred at Lee’s prompting but fell immediately back to sleep.
“Dope sick,” explained Lee.
In fact, by mid-day, about half the dozen or so remaining Triangle occupants were still sacked out — despite the din of the drill drowning out the normal roar of traffic on Lower Wacker.
Alisa Rodriguez, deputy commissioner with the Department of Family and Support Services, said she and her group of social workers had no intention of rousing anyone or forcing them to move, only to offer them services.
“The most important thing is helping them find a safe place,” she said.
But she acknowledged she has only shelter and detox beds to offer at this time, no permanent housing.
She also admitted everyone in the Triangle will have to be gone — one way or another — before the fence goes up at the end of the week.
On this morning, Rodriguez’s team found only one woman willing to accept the offer to go to detox.
Even as some of the homeless moved out, others arrived to take their place, occupying mattresses on which someone else had been sleeping when I arrived.
Terry Mardis, 48, who said he’d moved away from the Triangle previously, stopped by with an all too familiar lament.
“There’s 500 people down here,” Mardis said, referring to his estimate of Lower Wacker’s total homeless population. “We don’t know where to go after this.”