From Ald. Cappleman's newsletter today. There's a lot to take in, but it's a complex issue.
"April 28th, 2022
Thanks to everyone who attended last Tuesday's webinar that discussed the work being done to address homelessness in the 46th Ward and throughout the City of Chicago. Although homelessness is an extremely complex issue, COVID has taught us that it's best addressed in a coordinated and collaborative fashion that has us all working together.
While it may sometimes appear that very little is being done to tackle this problem, there continues to be a lot of work done by different City departments and social service agencies that's not often seen by the general public.
Some valuable lessons learned about addressing homelessness:
- The City of Chicago uses a Homelessness Management Information System (HMIS) to track every single person experiencing homelessness across the City. Each person is assigned a case manager from a social service agency.
- Every single person staying outdoors has been offered one of the following options: a shelter bed, a hotel room, an apartment, or a nursing home to keep them safe and out of the elements. Those with a substance use disorder who are not yet ready to stop using are also offered either a low barrier shelter or an apartment with wrap-around services to motivate them to address their addictions.
- People who refuse shelter and continue to live outdoors are experiencing a severe lack of trust. The assigned case manager's first task is to build trust so that they will later accept a roof over their heads.
- People stuck in the state of chronic homelessness move more quickly into permanent housing when they primarily interact with their assigned case manager and others who are coordinating their efforts with them. When well-meaning residents step in to help, it can slow down efforts of the case manager who's building trust with their client, and that ultimately slows down efforts to get them into permanent housing.
- The best way the public can help is by supporting the case manager's role of being the lead support for their client. Instead of providing food and other items directly, it's much better to donate items or money to the person's assigned social service agency. Contact the 46th Ward Office (Ward46@cityofchicago.org or call 773-878-4646) for assistance with contacting the agency to hear from them what types of donations their agency needs.
- If you're not sure if someone in need has an assigned case manager, call 311 to help the City of Chicago double check on getting them one.
A WORD ABOUT PROPANE TANKS & OTHER COMBUSTIBLE MATERIALS
People mean well when they give propane tanks to those living in tents, but these tanks have led to serious fires and explosions that risk killing people. The Chicago Fire Department is strongly opposed to anyone issuing these tanks to people living in the streets given the safety risk to both those living under and passing through the viaducts.
Last week, I called a meeting with the Mayor's Office, the City's Law Department, the Department of Family and Support Services, the Department of Public Health, the Chicago Fire Department, the Chicago Department of Transportation, and the Department of Streets & Sanitation to discuss the explosions that have happened at the Lawrence and Wilson viaducts under DuSable Lake Shore Drive.
I also raised the issue of other combustible items such as tiny homes, furniture, BBQ grills, and wooden pallets that are also under the Drive as well.
The Mayor's Office and other City departments will be doing the following:
- Pass out fliers to people living under the viaducts to warn them about the dangers of propane tanks used under the viaducts.
- Craft legislation that would allow the City to fine those who give out propane tanks to people living under the viaducts.
- Create a task force to explore other ideas to discourage the use of propane tanks and anything else that could lead to serious fires.
- Many of the explosions that have occurred under the viaducts were caused by people under the influence of alcohol or other drugs. People under the influence or those experiencing extreme mental distress are not capable of making an informed decision about what is safe and not safe, so it doesn't make sense that fliers would discourage them from using propane tanks, especially when they fear they could freeze to death without using one.
- It would be extraordinarily difficult to monitor the presence of propane tanks within homeless encampments and the close proximity under viaducts increases the likelihood that the explosion and resulting fire would quickly spread. Explosions always come with the risk of injury and death, and we have been very lucky so far that this has not yet been the case.
When these tanks explode under a viaduct, many tents are destroyed, along with all the other belongings of the people living there. The resulting smoke also travels up and risks blocking visibility for those driving above the viaduct on DuSable Lake Shore Drive.
- I am not opposed to people living in encampments. Many have very valid reasons to not trust others who are trying to help them, and forcing them to move to another part of town damages what little trust and community they might have, thus slowing down efforts to get them housed. That said, I support requiring the viaduct encampments to move to the nearby open space where some other tents are already located to reduce the safety risks for those currently living under the viaducts. I believe that this community has the right to stay together and to stay in Uptown but it is also our responsibility to ensure that those individuals and other neighbors remain safe.
- It also concerns me that no City department has ever taken the lead to identify and remove other combustible items (such as tiny homes, furniture, BBQ grills, and wooden pallets) that could make a fire much more serious, which would endanger the lives of not only people experiencing homelessness, but also of pedestrians, cyclists, and motorists.
- Under the leadership of former President Barack Obama, the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness provided cities across the country with recommendations about addressing encampments, including what to do when they are located in areas that could pose a danger. Rather than duplicate this effort by creating a task force, the City of Chicago would do well to follow through with the recommendations provided by this agency. Click here to view that document.
- My ask to have the viaducts cleared to make it safe for everyone has been denied and I fear it's only a matter of time when an injury will lead to a needless death. Along with the safety risk, it's my opinion this will lead to a lawsuit and your tax dollars will pay for it.
While I don't agree with the City's current approach to address this dangerous situation, I do respect the hard work of the Mayor's Office and our City departments on this complicated matter.
I will continue to work with them to come up with a solution that I believe will protect the lives of pedestrians, cyclists, motorists, and most especially, those who live under the viaducts below Jean Baptiste Pointe DuSable Lake Shore Drive.
Please join me in echoing these concerns that I have brought to the Mayor's Office and City Departments: