IRVING PARK — Northwest Side Ald. Jim Gardiner (45th) is coming under fire from several constituents after praising his supporters for clearing “unnecessary debris” from near the Irving Park Blue Line stop.
They weren’t throwing away garbage. They were throwing away blankets and food that belonged to a man experiencing homelessness.
The man, 48-year-old Kenneth Padletic, said he was buying a coffee at a nearby cafe on Jan. 12 and returned to his spot on the 4000 block of North Keeler Avenue, almost two blocks from the Irving station, to discover his blankets and several canned food items were gone.
“I don’t know why they took my stuff. It wasn’t on the sidewalk,” Padletic said Thursday.
In a post put on Facebook by Gardiner that same morning, it is clear from pictures that Padletic’s items were not blocking anyone’s path to the nearby CTA station.
In the post, Gardiner praises his supporters, who he calls “Gardiner’s Angels,” writing “Thanks to our #gardinerangels for spreading their wings early this morning for commuters to ensure the #irvingpark stop was clear of all unnecessary debris. #lesspoliticsmorservice #theprideof45.”
James Suh, who lives nearby, saw Gardiner’s post and did not feel any pride. He said he was disgusted and inspired to visit Padletic.
“They took his freaking food. That’s just unbelievable,” Suh said. “It’s heartless and disgusting, and also idiotic.”
It also may be criminal, according to Diane O’Connell, attorney for Law Project the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless.
“I find it very disturbing that these people went and stole this guy’s stuff. That’s what we’re talking about here. This is a police issue. This isn’t even a civil rights case. This is a, ‘Call the police because these people stole my stuff’ — and by the way, the alderman congratulated them on doing it,” O’Connell said.
Gardiner did not return several calls seeking comment for this story.
Suh said he responded to Gardiner’s post and called him out by tagging him in comments, but Gardiner did not respond. In the social media thread on the post, some expressed support for Gardiner and his supporters, while others echoed Suh’s dismay.
“What kind of person thinks that throwing away a homeless person’s blankets in the middle of winter is something you should be posting on social media about, looking for recognition? It’s baffling. How off-base and out of touch do you have to be to think that would play well?” said Suh, who lives in Gardiner’s ward and drives past the spot where Padletic was living every day on his way to work.
On Jan. 12, it only got as warm as 39 degrees in Chicago, and it was as cold as 26 degrees, according to Accuweather.
Suh offered to let Padletic sleep inside his office at his nearby business, the Car Care Auto Spa, 3618 N. Cicero Ave., and has offered to get him a room at a nearby YMCA. As of Thursday, Padletic hasn’t taken him up on it.
Padletic is back at his spot on Keeler, saying he had additional blankets at another location. He said in the 25 years he’s been on the street, never before were his possessions taken. He said he earns money by buying and selling baseball cards.
Suh said one of Gardiner’s supporters claimed on social media that Gardiner got Padletic housing, but on Thursday Padletic said he has never met the alderman nor has he heard from anyone who works for him about housing or anything else.
O’Connell, who has worked on issues of homelessness for years, said the motivation for removing Padletic’s possessions may have been the desire to avoid confronting the stark reality of homelessness rather than any practical or safety issue.
“In the picture, you can see he’s not blocking the sidewalk. People can walk by,” she said. “The complaint is they just don’t want to look at poor people and their stuff, which is not a legitimate complaint.”
Melvin Bridgmon, a coordinator at Outreach Chicago, a non-profit that provides services to low-income and homeless families in Englewood and someone who was homeless for a decade, said the removal of Padletic’s possessions was “heartless” and may have been done in the winter to get Padletic off the street.
“I think their philosophy is to force people to get off the street,” Bridgmon said. “Wait until it’s cold and then you can force them to go into a shelter, but they don’t realize the shelters get full. And you also have people who are dealing with PTSD issues, mental health issues, and they don’t want to be around people. So, they never factor those issues into the reason why people are still out on the street.”
O’Connell said Gardiner should have to answer for his post and for what those he calls Gardiner’s Angels did.
“This is really disturbing,” O’Connell said. “Somebody should call this alderman out, for sure. This is not OK.”
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