|Aftermath of the March 22nd explosion|
Like the horrible explosion and fire from two weeks ago -- and a similar explosion, fire and fatality in 2021 -- this most recent fire was started and then precipitated by the explosion of propane tanks. Twelve propane tanks were found in total, although only two exploded in this case. Thank God.
If all twelve propane tanks had exploded, there would have surely been loss of life and injuries to the people who currently are living nearby, not to mention any passers-by and residents living in nearby buildings.
Although we try not to editorialize, the residents who contribute to Uptown Update think the time has come to say something more than just report.
We hear consistent concerns about the viaducts and park encampments and demands for change daily, in comments to the blog, messages to our inbox, photos, and in discussions with fellow residents. The sentiment is both popular and clear: please someone do something about the situation.
From our review of many years of emails and messages, here are some uncontroverted facts about the situation:
What is happening under the viaducts and in Lincoln Park is illegal, has been illegal, and will remain illegal.
The viaducts at Montrose, Wilson and Lawrence are under the jurisdiction of the City of Chicago and the State of Illinois owing to the presence of DuSable Lake Shore Drive directly above.
Lincoln Park is under the jurisdiction of the City and the Chicago Park District.
As we understand it, there are up to 12 different laws being broken every day the homeless encampments stay in place (the Americans With Disabilities Act, Illinois statutes, City ordinances and Park District Code).
The blockage of all or part of the pedestrian and bike lanes under the viaducts is an ongoing violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act.
The City of Chicago and the State of Illinois have chosen not to enforce the law as written.
Every person under the viaducts has been offered shelter or housing, but has refused.
The City of Chicago rented an entire hotel on Michigan Avenue to house homeless persons in 2021 through last month. Every person who remained under the Uptown viaducts this winter refused repeated offers of sheltering in the Hotel Julian.
The citizens of Uptown are asked to comply with the law every day. The vast majority of us do. But the residents of the encampments, a group numbering less than 50 people, have mostly refused help, do not follow the law, and more importantly, are not being asked to.
For more than 10 years, we have received messages and complaints reporting open air drug use, open air sexual activity, garbage, objects and rotten food strewn across the ground in the viaducts and the park encampments. Of course, all of these activities are both in violation of the law and a threat to public health and safety, particularly during COVID. It's become routine to see bicyclists and pedestrians using the traffic lanes under the viaducts to avoid the chaos of the encampments, and we have been lucky to have no injuries so far.
|Smoke rising over Weiss after Wednesday's fire,|
forwarded from a reader via the Citizen app
To illustrate, after our initial concerns about injuries during the March explosion were met with good news that no one had been hurt, our thoughts turned to the what ifs.
- What if the explosion had happened on a Saturday midday with pedestrians?
- What if the explosion had led to a parent and baby being horribly burned or killed when their stroller was engulfed by flames?
- What if more propane tanks had ignited, potentially wiping out the entire population of the encampment?
- What if the explosion had killed or injured a bicyclist, or a senior citizen out for a walk?
- What if a larger explosion caused DuSable Lake Shore Drive to collapse, leading to deaths from cars plunging to the street level below?
There are now actual wooden structures in the pedestrian and bike lanes (ersatz "tiny homes") under DLSD, replacing tents. We don't want to imagine what would happen if those caught fire. And there are new double-wide tents on wood pallets. It's obvious that the entirety of the current situation is unsafe for everyone -- multiple flammable objects stored under a federal highway coupled with propane tanks.
|char marks outside the viaduct showing |
the intensity of the March 22nd explosion
But remember as you read the comments that these are accusations intended to attack the messenger in an attempt to distract from the message. In the end, we're fed up, the community is fed up, and we are going to speak our minds and give a voice to our readers, regardless of the response.
Our aldermen (Ald. Cappleman and Ald. Osterman) have told us repeatedly that they have little control over the situation, as it is the City's choice to ignore the laws on the books. We are not politicians. We can't effect change directly, and all we have is this soapbox to work with.
But with the situation clearly out of hand and dangerous, we call on the City of Chicago and State of Illinois to apply the laws on the books equally and fairly and remove all people camped on public land. While this will necessarily lead to the end of the homeless encampments, it is the right thing to do for the community at large and for the people who are living in extremely dangerous conditions.
We have questions, too:
- What does the Chicago Fire Department think about all of this?
- And should the City Inspector General weigh in on how they feel about having laws routinely ignored and selectively enforced?
The residents of Uptown are entitled to free, safe, and unencumbered access to and use of the viaducts, the parks, and DuSable Lakeshore Drive each and every day. It's well beyond time to put a stop to the practice of subjugating the interests of the overwhelming majority of citizens and visitors to a small minority who refuse help and refuse housing.
Update by Uptown Updater:
Carrying over my comments from Facebook to answer common questions:
With regard to offers of shelter, we've worked on this aspect of the story over several years, talking to people in government and social services and collecting information sent by citizens asking the same questions. While it is true that 'new' residents of the encampments may be outside without offers of shelter for a few days, the City and private social services go to the camps frequently and any homeless person is provided an offer within a week. EVERYONE in the encampments is contacted, offered immediate shelter, and encouraged to enter a 'wrap-around' service program. Most refuse, although there are plenty of good stories where people have 'graduated' from the viaducts to housing, full time jobs, etc. The current model is 'housing first,' where shelter or housing is the initial step, followed by services. Obviously, this requires people to accept housing as a first step. Many have resisted for years.
With regard to why people resist shelter and housing offers, substance use is far and away #1, coupled with requirements to start substance abuse counseling (although this is not universal). Curfew restrictions, requirements to attend meetings with social workers, requirements to engage in job training are also very common complaints.
To answer others who think we are criticizing individuals, the pressing issue is the 3 known fires, one of them fatal. Homeless people need to follow the laws as we all do. The unsafe behaviors and unsanitary conditions are an additional hazard to both the homeless and the public. Uptown residents are entitled to use the viaducts and park without fear of being exposed to these risks.