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Officials looking for shelter for homeless living under highway

Submitted on Thu, 06/28/2007 – 14:08.
Story by Jamie Morgan
Every summer, homeless men and women settle on the Kennedy Expressway’s underpasses that stretch diagonally through the 35th Ward.

Concrete platforms under the expressway are easily converted into beds. The underpasses also provide shade from the sun and shelter from the thunderstorms.

And every summer residents living and walking near these underpasses complain about their homeless neighbors.

This year, 35th Ward Ald. Rey Colon and Superintendent Raul Rodan have created a task force along with the Illinois Department of Transportation, Chicago Department of Human Services and the Chicago Department of Streets and Sanitation to address the situation.

“Specifically on Belmont Avenue and Kedzie Avenue, also on Belmont Avenue and Kimball Avenue we have issues with people living under there,” Colon said. “And it’s also a route for children going to school. So there’s some concerns from parents about safety.”

Other intersections worry residents, the alderman says, noting he hears the same complaints about the underpasses on Diversey Avenue and California Avenue, Sacramento Avenue, Wellington Avenue, and on Logan and Western.

The residents who complain want the homeless people gone, but Colon says driving the homeless away isn’t an option.

“Being homeless is not a crime,” he says. “I can’t say I’m going to get rid of the homeless for you, but I can say I’m going to work on keeping the neighborhood clean.”

The police will come and tell the homeless to relocate for a while, so that the streets and sanitation workers can power wash the underpasses to clear away any trash and feces that has built up.

Colon says the city’s human services department offer options to the homeless, such as temporary shelter. He notes that many of the workers even know the homeless by name.

But Julie Dworkin, policy director for the Chicago Homeless Coalition, says homeless men and women may not always want the services offered to them.

“They might not want to go to a shelter,” says Dworkin. “They might want (permanent) housing.”

Colon says he’s been working on bringing what he calls supportive housing into his Westside ward that would address not just homelessness but the underlying factors like drug abuse and lack of job skills or education.

But Dworkin says the community has been adamant about keeping that kind of housing out.

“The community has been fighting it tooth and nail,” she says. “That’s the problem. They don’t like the problem, and they don’t like the solution.”

Since last winter, the alderman has been looking to turn the Millshire Hotel at 2525 N. Milwaukee Ave. and the seven-story Morris B. Sachs building at 2802 N. Milwaukee Ave., which houses a shoe store, into
supportive housing.

“It’s just that it’s very difficult to do it, without a lot of opposition from neighbors,” said Colon. “People are afraid it’s going to make their property value go down.”

It’s more than protecting property values for some residents, who say they’re genuinely afraid.

The alderman says there was a woman at one of the intersections who was HIV positive and threatened to bite anyone who wouldn’t give her a dollar.

Dworkin says in those cases, the homeless person may actually have a mental illness that needs to be treated.

At Home Public Social Issues West Side
35th ward alderman rey colon chicago department of human services chicago homeless coaliation homeless logan square

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