City threatens to remove ice fishing tents donated to Chicago homeless

Samantha Chatman Image
Thursday, October 27, 2022
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The city is threatening to remove orange tents that have been donated by a business owner to Chicago's unhoused population.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- The city is threatening to remove orange tents donated to homeless residents throughout Chicago by a local businessman.

Andy Robledo owns a local plant shop. He said the tent mission is personal to him and he wants to offer this shelter to as many people as he can.

"I'm an addict in recovery myself, and I've seen both sides of it and how substances can ruin your life," he said. "I'm here to provide shelter, provide food, provide heat. Anything people need to survive."

Robledo started providing the tents, which are made and insulated for ice fishing, last year to unhoused residents to give them a warm place to live. Robledo said each tent cost about $350, which includes added flooring to keep them secure and additional warming items to help the homeless bear the cold. He said they're also more aesthetically pleasing for communities.

He has since distributed more than 70 tents throughout the city with the help of community organizers like Englewood Barbie.

"I understand how it feels to be forgotten, how it feels to not know why you're here. So my purpose is to help people," she said.

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But organizers say they're getting pushback from the city. Earlier this week, the Department of Family and Support Services tagged the tents with red notices, indicating the items "may be discarded" because they violate City Code 10-27-070, which prohibits storing personal property on the public way.

Nina Spoden, who lives in one of the tents, said a city worker told them not to get too comfortable because they won't be here much longer. They hope they'll be able to stay.

"Last winter was hard because we didn't have this type of help," Spoden said. "Having people come out just out of their own kind hearts means a lot to us."

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Residents in the area expressed mixed feelings about the tents.

"They're bright colored and they're out there," said Torey Beerman, resident. "I think it's good out there if you need a home, but also I don't know if it's promoting living on the streets so, it's interesting."

The city told the I-Team the notices were placed on the tents so they could conduct a cleaning, and that no resident is being relocated as part of this project.

Robledo said he's been here with the city before.

"If you look at the ordinance, it's pretty harsh language. It's meant to remove these tents," he said. "I've also seen the city take tents without notice, so it's not a cleaning effort. It's a clean sweep effort."

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Chicago's Department of Family and Support Services told the I-Team it engages with people at encampments in the days leading up to cleanings to connect individuals with shelter, housing and other services, adding, "Since 2020, DFSS invested $35 million to launch the Expedited Housing Initiative (EHI), which has so far moved over 1,800 households into housing from shelters or encampments."

But Robledo said people remain on the city streets without homes, and as long as they're there he will continue to provide these quality tents.

"And if the city does remove any of them, they will be hearing from us," Robledo said.

The organizers behind the tents said they're hoping to work with the city in the coming days to try to convince them to leave these tents right where they are.

Full Statement from the City of Chicago

These notices are to relay to owners of the property that there will be a cleaning on the noted date. It is important to note that no resident is being relocated as part of this project. Once our partners at the Department of Streets and Sanitation (DSS) conduct the maintenance and cleaning necessary for this location, individuals can return to their location with their property.

These notices are posted at least 7 days in advance, and DFSS engages with residents at encampments in the days leading up to cleanings to connect individuals with shelter, housing, and other services.

To better serve our fellow residents experiencing homelessness in and around encampments across the city, DFSS also provides regular coordination of multi-day service events at encampments with the mobile health unit, outreach providers, substance abuse providers and mental health providers. Teams engage, assess, and offer services including shelter and housing assessments.

Housing is the ultimate goal and pathway out of homelessness. Since 2020, DFSS invested $35 million to launch the Expedited Housing Initiative (EHI), which has so far moved over 1,800 households into housing from shelters or encampments.

It is not illegal to be homeless in the City of Chicago, and DFSS keeps the rights of these individuals top of mind while balancing safety and hygiene needs of the entire community.