ROGERS PARK — The Park District is working to reopen Touhy Park in time for spring programs, reversing a months-long closure of park facilities because of the presence of a tent encampment.
Touhy Park’s field house at 7348 N. Paulina St. was closed in September as the population of the tent city inside the park swelled. The closure followed an earlier decision to move a summer day camp program from Touhy Park to Pottawatomie Park because of the encampment.
With the encampment’s population waning after several rounds of housing efforts by the city, the Park District is working on a park-reopening plan that includes restarting spring programs, spokesperson Irene Tostado said.
Spring programs for the Park District begin in April.
While there have previously been dozens of residents living inside Touhy Park, the encampment was down to two residents, Ald. Maria Hadden (49th) said at a town hall last week.
The park will reopen after the Department of Family and Support Services pairs the two remaining residents with housing, Hadden said.
Once those residents are paired with housing, the Park District will begin enforcing rules around park curfew and camping, regulations that were eased as the city experienced an increase in homelessness coinciding with the pandemic, Hadden said.
The goal is for the Park District to begin enforcing its curfew and camping rules in March, Hadden said. The possibility of new residents setting up in the park could complicate that timeline, she said.
The Park District did not confirm when curfew and camping rules will be enforced, but it is “working with our city partners on the specifics for the park reopening plan in conjunction with the start of the Park District spring programming session,” Tostado said.
The planned reopening of Touhy Park facilities comes about two years after a tent city popped up in the park. Its population has ebbed and flowed, and the encampment has come to dominate the political conversation in Rogers Park.
RELATED: As Touhy Park’s Tent City Swells, Park District Closes Its Field House And Moves Programs
The situation came to a head with the park facilities’ closure and the relocating of programs. Other events — including Shakespeare in the Park and movie night — still took place at the park last year, albeit with reduced attendance, park volunteers said.
To date, 84 people living in the park have been matched with housing, Hadden said.
“The housing efforts are going really well,” Hadden said at the town hall. “This has been a challenging thing to coordinate, as the primary focus has been housing our residents experiencing homelessness, making sure people get their needs met, but then also trying to make sure we can make the park ready for use again.”
Hadden is running for reelection this month and is facing challengers Belia Rodriguez and Bill Morton, who have criticized the incumbent’s handling of the park.
Despite housing efforts, the encampment’s population has previously rebounded. In May, the encampment was down to four residents, Hadden said at the town hall. Its population rose over the summer, with about 30 residents in the park by October.
The difference this spring is that rules on park curfew and camping will be enforced, deterring future inhabitants once the park is reopened, Hadden said.
Ten tent sites remain at the park as of Monday, with most of them left behind by people who have found housing, Hadden said. Those will be removed at the next park cleanup, scheduled for Feb. 23.
Restoration efforts, including the replanting of grass, will take place in anticipation of Touhy Park’s reopening, according to the park district.
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