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Man Giving Winter Tents To People Who Are Homeless Says City Officials Will No Longer Threaten Teardowns

Andy Robledo said the city told him they won't remove tents. Now he wants to build tiny homes for people in desperate need of housing.

Andy Robledo and a crew of volunteers are building orange tents across the city.
Andy Robledo
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CHICAGO — A Pilsen man giving warm winter tents to people living underneath bridges, viaducts and in parks — and has blasted city officials for threatening to throw them out — now says officials are backing off.

Andy Robledo has driven around Chicago in his 1974 blue Ford pickup truck for about a year passing out orange ice fishing tents to people experiencing homelessness.

The tents, which cost $350, retain heat and allow people to live at their encampments year-round, Robledo said.

“Whenever I drove past someone, I would help them,” said Robledo, a recovering alcoholic. “It’s not perfect, and it’s certainly not an apartment, but with the weather turning, this is what we can do.”

Robledo’s effort made headlines last month when city officials posted notices crews may throw out the tents, and supporters rallied near Lake and Clinton streets in the West Loop to protect the residents.

City officials said the notices were only meant to inform residents of routine cleaning — but Robledo said tents have been trashed in the past. No tents were taken from Lake and Clinton streets as demonstrators watched over Streets and Sanitation workers.

The show of “absolute love and community” has energized the orange tent efforts, Robledo said. Over 60 volunteers have come to recent builds, small and large donations have poured in and Robledo has now constructed over 100 tents this year, he said.

RELATED: ‘City May Tear Down Warm Tents Man Passed Out To Chicagoans Who Are Homeless’

Credit: Alejandro Reyes
Rows of orange tents will keep people warm this winter at encampments across the city.

In coming weeks, volunteers will also include building wooden tiny homes, primarily for people on waitlists for city-supported housing, Robledo said.

Members of the city’s Department of Family and Support Services recently met with Robledo and had a “a productive conversation,” mayor’s office spokesperson Alejandra Flores Rebollar said.

City officials did not directly answer questions about its meeting with Robledo.

“We appreciate organizations and residents who share our goals and have a passion for serving some of our city’s most vulnerable residents,” Rebollar said. “The Department of Family and Support Services seeks to make homelessness rare, brief, and non-recurring through comprehensive city programs and services.”

But Rebollar said notices will continue to be posted at encampments at least seven days ahead of cleanings, and items “that are abandoned or not claimed will be stickered and may be removed.”

Robledo said he was told at the meeting that the city “does not support or condone the orange tents.”

“But the city is not going to discard them … even though the city hasn’t publicly changed their tune on that,” Robledo said. “We’re now talking about how we’re going work together and how we really have the same end goal: To get people in homes and off the streets.”

Credit: Andy Robledo
Andy Robledo and supporters have put up over 100 ice fishing tents this year.

City leaders have done encouraging work to mobilize caseworkers and connect unhoused people to mental health services and addiction counseling, Robledo said. He also supports programs to build low-barrier shelters that are “hotel-style” with single rooms, instead of communal shelters people often tell him are unsanitary and dangerous.

The city is putting $20 million in federal funding from the Chicago Recovery Plan towards acquiring hotel-type facilities and another $20 million in rehabbing current shelters, Rebollar said. Additional funding in the 2023 budget will go towards building a new low-barrier shelter, which will allow residents to come and go as they please, Rebollar said.

Over 350 unsheltered households have been housed in the past 18 months, Rebollar said.

It takes an average of 66 days to house a Chicagoan, Rebollar said.

But Robledo said the city can solve the problem “with a snap of a finger,” given the number of empty apartments and hotel rooms on any night.

“We’re dealing with freezing cold conditions and people living outside in summer tents. And it feels like when one person gets housing, two more show up needing a tent,” Robledo said. “My ultimate goal is to never have to build another one.”

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