“It’s a human rights issue. I had no idea what I was tapping into when I created this [Facebook] page,” said Stavroula Harissis. “I saw the article that he was trying to push out the Salvation Army food truck and I was appalled. I made the event page and it blew up.”
Cappleman told the Salvation Army on March 1 that he wanted its mobile outreach van out of his ward within 30 days, and by March 4, 200 people on Facebook had promised to attend the protest.
“What you are seeing here is an outpouring of people who don’t get listened to,” Harissis said. It’s just a program of gentrification that is happening around the country, pushing out the poor people. Whereas people on the street today are just concerned about having a job, food, housing, the people in charge of this city are so out of touch with normal people – the 99 percent. A few people control the majority of the wealth and the rest of us take what they kick down to us. What I am seeing here is that people are not OK with that.”
Harissis said that officials from Organization of the NorthEast (ONE) contacted her after they saw her Facebook page and told her they were glad she was behind the rally so that the public would not say it was part of a single community group’s agenda. ONE used the occasion to hand out flyers for a 6 p.m. March 21 meeting with Cappleman at the People’s Church, 941 W. Lawrence Ave. The orange flyer said that “Uptown is one of the most racially and economically diverse communities in Chicago but our neighbors are being PUSHED OUT. This is re-segregation.” Cappleman was invited to discuss housing that retains diversity, as well as neighborhood public schools, community-based violence prevention and social services to address community needs.
Executive Director of the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless Ed Shurna said people spontaneously joined the rally because, “I just think it touches the heart of a lot of people who care about what is going on in the city. They know cubicle hotels may the last stop on the way to homelessness and they don’t want attacks on social service agencies that are doing good work.”
Cappleman contends that conditions at low-rent (roughly $300 monthly) cubicle hotels such as the Wilson Men’s Hotel in his ward and the Ewing Annex Hotel downtown do not meet the city’s building code. He has co-sponsored a proposed Chicago City Council ordinance that would outlaw these hotels.
“He’s anti-SRO, anti-pigeons,” said Jane Hertenstein, an artist who has lived in Uptown since 1982 and does memoirs of social service clients there. She saw the notice of the rally on Facebook and then did more research through social media.
“He’s anti-Salvation Army, and Stewart and Stockton schools are on the list to be closed,” Hertenstein said. “I just feel he is picking on marginalized people when there are other issues.”
The pigeon reference was to stories in the Sun-Times and CBS2 about an Indiana farmer who traps the birds with Cappleman’s blessing and then allows people to use them for target practice.
“He should do education about not feeding the pigeons, not pass a law that would put that person in prison,” said Lucky Marlovitz, who has lived in an intentional community in the 46th ward for 13 years.
Marlovitz said the rally was “almost overdue,” given the threatened SROs and the Chateau Hotel, which has been purchased by an upscale developer who issued eviction notices to current tenants.
“People were glad to come out,” she said. “These issues have been going on for awhile. Housing for low- and very low-income people has been disappearing. It’s about food for people, housing for people. Today is a message from working poor…saying we have a right to be here.”
“The beauty of Uptown is its diversity: the very, very rich and the poor and everything in between,” said Denice Davis, a 30-year neighborhood resident and former chief of staff to Ald. Helen Shiller, Cappleman’s predecessor. Davis pledged to run against Cappleman and said she changed her mind about him six months into his term.
“I know if a building was to close, we [Shiller’s office] found housing, if people were behind in rent, we made sure they could get food or money,” Davis said. She also runs a food pantry at Uptown Baptist Church, which she said draws more than 200 people every third Wednesday.
After the 80-minute rally, Cappleman chief of staff Tressa Feher had printed statements from the alderman that thanked the Salvation Army’s Capt. Nancy Powers for meeting with him that day to discuss better coordination of services. “For too long social services have operated in silos… Hopefully we can see the day when no one is living on the streets and everyone has a safe and warm roof over their heads.”
Feher said that the statement did not represent a change in policy but rather Cappleman’s requests for such a meeting for over a year. He seeks to avoid duplication: two food pantries on the same day or multiple shelters with clothes when dental care might be an unmet need.
A licensed clinical social worker, Cappleman often takes staff out at 2 a.m. to visit people sleeping in parks. He stays out until 3:30 or 4 as he urges these homeless people to seek services, Feher said.
Does Uptown have more than its share of subsidized housing?
“That’s for HUD [the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development] to decide, the city to decide,” Feher responded.
“Almost everyone here in this office lives next to a place that is subsidized, including the alderman,” she said. “It’s just part of the neighborhood.”
By Suzanne Hanney