ROGERS PARK — Residents of Touhy Park got a temporary reprieve from the cold Thursday when city vans picked them up and brought them to the Broadway Armory to fill out paperwork for housing.
But the warmth was short-lived, as the park’s residents were not placed in housing right away. Most hope the city’s intervention means their days living outside will soon come to an end, while others are skeptical, having seen local officials conduct sweeps and pressure residents to move.
“I don’t think the city will help,” said Zidan, who has been living at Touhy Park for six months. “I’m cold. I want to say, ‘Where are they going to take me?'”
Touhy Park, 7348 N. Paulina St., is one of about 35 homeless encampments in Chicago. A tent city popped up in the park this summer as the pandemic exacerbated a housing crisis locally and nationally.
Neighbors and officials hope they have found a resolution: The city hosted an “accelerated moving event” for the 20 or so residents of Touhy Park on Thursday, looking to get all of them placed in housing before the winter.
After some said they would not take up the city’s offer, 19 of 20 residents ended up going with staff from the city’s Department of Family and Support Services to file paperwork to be placed in housing, said Ald. Maria Hadden (49th).
Similar moving events were held this week in Fireman’s Park in Avondale and under viaducts in Chinatown, advocates said. It’s a step forward in the city’s effort to combat homelessness.
“I’d say it was pretty good,” Joseph Peery, of the National Union of the Homeless, said of Thursday’s moving event in Touhy Park. “You can do a good job in a microcosm but a bad job overall.”
The coronavirus pandemic has caused more residents to lose housing, causing a “crisis” of homelessness and housing instability in the city, officials have said. Early this year, the city estimated 4,477 were people experiencing homelessness, with about 3,000 of those people having some type of shelter versus being outside.
The city has received more than $200 million in federal CARES Act funding to help people with insufficient housing. That’s on top of an earlier round of funding that earmarked $35 million for an “expedited housing initiative” during the height of the pandemic.
Accelerated Moving Events is one of the city’s tools for pairing people without housing to apartments. Thursday’s event in Touhy Park comes after two public meetings about the local encampment and after city officials had an “encampment assessment.”
Neighbors, city officials, residents and Hadden met at the park Saturday. Some residents at the meeting expressed frustration with the lack of enforcement over the encampment, with the most vocal opposition relating to sanitation issues in and around the park.
Park residents also complained about not having portable toilets or hand-washing stations, things that have been placed at other encampments. Officials said bathrooms would be placed at the park.
Maura McCauley, the family services agency’s deputy commissioner of homelessness and domestic violence, said Saturday the agency secured 20 units of housing for the park’s residents.
But before a person facing homelessness gets placed in housing, they have to be enrolled in the city’s “coordinated entry system.”
At an encampment assessment Sept. 14-16, city housing officials talked with 12 park residents, according to Hadden’s office. Four signed up for the entry system for housing, and one person was identified as being in the system and was matched for housing.
Most Touhy Park residents were in the entry system and were able to take advantage of the rehousing event, advocates who were there said afterward. The lone person from the camp to turn down the assistance did so because the housing offered was too far from his work, Hadden said in a tweet.
Even if the paperwork goes through for housing, placement won’t happen for as long as two to four weeks, officials said.
In the meantime, residents said they will likely stay at their camp in Touhy Park. Groups like the Salvation Army and the Night Ministry have provided weekly services to the park residents, Hadden said. A cleaning of the park will be conducted Nov. 29, according signs posted in the park.
“We’re not going to kick people out of the park while they’re waiting for housing,” Hadden said at the community meeting.
Residents of Touhy Park were not the only ones at Thursday’s moving event.
Some others facing homelessness showed up to the park, hoping to take advantage of the city’s rehousing effort. That included Marcus, who said he was at a Chinatown moving event Wednesday but was told he wasn’t on the city’s list.
Thanks to homeless advocates, Marcus learned of the event at Touhy Park. But he and at least three others were turned away Thursday after being told they were not authorized to participate.
“I want help getting a house,” Marcus said. “I don’t mind going back to work. I just need a place to rest my head.”
A second rapid rehousing event will take place next month to help people who couldn’t get help Thursday, Hadden tweeted.
Marcus and the others turned away are on the “long-term” list for housing services, Peery said. That’s some of the problem, he said: There are too many people left waiting for help even as the city has new resources to combat the problem.
“In the middle of a pandemic, there were promises made that they were going to work on this issue of homelessness,” Peery said. “We’re just not seeing it.”
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