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Uptown, Edgewater, Rogers Park

Uptown’s Tent City Residents Worry They’ll Be Evicted As City Crews Clean Viaducts

"It's not a crime to live in a tent," one resident of Uptown's tent city said.

The Wilson Avenue tent encampment in Uptown was cleaned up by city crews Monday.
Joe Ward/Block Club Chicago
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UPTOWN — Cleanup efforts in Uptown’s Lake Shore Drive viaducts have residents of the neighborhood’s tent city worried about being displaced ahead of winter.

Streets and Sanitation crews on Monday visited the Lawrence Avenue and Wilson Avenue viaducts under Lake Shore Drive, cleaning up the sidewalks that house people living in a tent encampment.

The work was described as routine maintenance of public infrastructure, but residents of the tent city believe the cleanup is an effort to get them to leave.

“They came out to tell us we can’t be here anymore,” Thomas Gordon, who has lived under the viaducts on-and-off since 2016, said at a press conference streamed live on Facebook. “We ain’t going nowhere. Give me housing, or leave us alone.”

Monday’s cleanup and protest from residents and housing advocates is just the latest incident in the battle over the fate of Uptown’s tent city, where those struggling with homelessness have for years taken shelter from storms and the cold.

The issue came to a head in 2017, when a judge ruled residents of tent city must vacate the viaducts to let the city renovate the infrastructure.

Bike lanes were added to the sidewalk under the viaducts of Lawrence and Wilson, which connect Uptown to the lakefront. But residents of tent city came back.

Now, the residents and their supporters are worried they will again be displaced.

Streets and Sanitation posted an off-street cleaning notice on Dec. 9 for the work it performed Monday at the Wilson and Lawrence underpasses, said Marjani Williams, spokesperson for the department.

Only unclaimed items and debris were discarded, Williams said. The Department of Family and Support Services also came out to the encampment in an effort to connect residents to shelters and other services.

“The City of Chicago conducts scheduled cleanings along parkways and public spaces to protect the health and safety of residents, while respecting the rights of homeless populations in the area,” Williams said in a statement.

A cleanup is also scheduled for Monday, Williams said.

Supporters of the tent city residents, however, view the city’s actions as “harassment” of the city’s “most vulnerable residents.” The People’s Tribune, an advocacy news outlet, helped stage a press conference Tuesday for tent city residents to tell their side of the story.

“It’s not a crime to live in a tent,” Gordon said. “The police are being paid to fight crime. Fight crime and leave us alone.”

On Tuesday afternoon, about a half dozen tents remained in the encampment in the Wilson Avenue viaduct. Many of the tents are fortified with blankets and tarps, tied to the outside of the tent in an effort to provide more warmth. One tent had a string of Christmas lights hanging from it.

Tent cities, often located under viaducts throughout the city, help individuals struggling with homeless battle the brutal conditions that come with a Chicago winter.

Illinois consistently ranks in the top five states for cold-related deaths per year, according to the Tribune. In 2017, Cook County saw the highest number of cold-related deaths in more than a decade, according to the Sun-Times.

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