Sun-Times columnist Mark Brown has discovered Chicago's own Simon Legree, a dangerous, heartless man who despises the homeless and wants them, and all poor people, out of sight and out of mind.
Who would that be? 46th Ward alderman James Cappleman, a man who — despite founding a homeless shelter, being a former Franciscan friar, and receiving the endorsement of the National Association of Social Workers — has "obviously decided to rid the 46th Ward of unsightly poor people," according to Brown in his most recent column. In fact, "he’s downright dangerous."
What caused this? According to Mr. Brown,
Ald. James Cappleman (46th) informed the Salvation Army on Friday that it is no longer welcome to feed the poor in Uptown from its homeless outreach trucks.
Cappleman gave the social service agency one month to find a new North Side location — outside his ward — before ceasing operations, said Capt. Nancy Powers, who oversees the Salvation Army’s homeless program in Chicago.
Later in the article, there's this:
The mobile outreach unit also operates daily from four other locations in the city. In addition, the Salvation Army operates mobile feeding trucks that go to 22 other sites — but with no homeless support. The Uptown location is the only North Side site. [...] The Salvation Army will ask other Lakefront aldermen to provide a location to fill the void.
Where do the Salvation Army — and the Night Ministry — park their mobile kitchens? At Wilson and Marine, right by the viaduct where so many chronic homeless call home.
To our way of thinking, there are a few different approaches to dealing with the issue of the chronically homeless who have lived in Uptown's parks and under the LSD viaducts for decades:
- One is to bring services to them, to supply food several times a day, blankets, medical care, and clean needles, bringing it right where they stay. Some suburban churches have even put together programs where the ladies knit mats made from plastic grocery bags to be sent to Uptown, to keep the park sleepers comfortable and dry. The chief of staff for former alderman Helen Shiller, even suggested that port-a-potties be placed in the park so that the sleepers could take care of business without fouling the grounds.
- Another approach has been used in Uptown since 2008 as an intra-agency effort. This past summer, "The police from both the 19th and 20th Districts, the aldermanic staffs from 46 and 48, both wards' Streets and San departments, employees from the Department of Human Services and Park Department, and Ald. Cappleman have been joining together and going into the parks in the wee hours to see who's there and to offer them assistance. [...] The most recent time they were out, four people accepted help and got into the social services system. They believe there are several more who are ready to do likewise."
A similar campaign was put together by former 48th Ward alderman Mary Ann Smith in 2008. In her words, "This is not heartless. It is essential."
So which approach is more effective in helping someone who's spent years on the street? Tough love, eviction from the park, and help entering the social services system; or bringing "room service," supplying the needs of those who choose to live on the streets, and having people available in case one of them asks for help changing that life?
Obviously the Salvation Army and the city hold opposing views on what the best method is of helping these people. We'd like to see some statistics comparing which approach has had the most success in getting people off the streets and into permanent housing.
Mr. Brown's article is here. It covers a lot of ground, including the controversy between residents who want Uptown to be more than a social services capital and the views of the providers of those services, and Ald. Cappleman's response to why he wants the Salvation Army to stop serving meals by the park.
click to enlarge
Incidentally, Mr. Brown, there's no way that Uptown will ever "be rid of unsightly poor people," as you so elegantly phrase it. Please take a look at the map that accompanies an excellent article from WBEZ called "The slow disappearing act of the Chicago SRO." Please note the number of red dots in Uptown as compared to those in the other communities on the North Side, and dare we say it, as compared to Oak Park.
We are a compassionate community, as our high levels of volunteerism and charitable giving indicate. But take a look at those dots. We don't think one small community should bear responsibility for 15 SROs, eight homeless shelters (within a five block area) and the highest concentration of HUD-subsidized housing on the north side of Chicago. What's wrong with the idea that other communities should be offered the opportunity to show compassion and care to society's most vulnerable members?
Maybe those who live in glass suburbs shouldn't throw stones.