Homeless rights groups protest Uptown shelter's closure

Evelyn Holmes Image
Tuesday, December 13, 2016
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Activists say the shelter will close December 23 due to the ongoing budget impasse.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Homeless rights groups set up a "tent city" outside a North Side shelter that's shutting down.

The protest is part of a last-ditch effort to stop the Uptown shelter near Sheridan and Lawrence that helps hundreds of people from closing its doors at the end of the month.

Phillip Marchar said he could be on the street again after the shelter he's called home for the last three months closes next week.

"We're missing it for good, no way we can get it again," Marchar said.

He's one of the hundreds of homeless men - and perhaps thousands of homeless people- affected by the planned closure of the North Side housing and supportive services shelter. The closure will come as temperatures plunge into the single digits.

"I'm begging the community that we live in here to come together and help those under the viaducts, help the homeless," said Joe Murray.

Activists say the shelter on West Lawrence Avenue, which was established in 1983, will close December 23 because the state has failed to come up with the $100,000 needed to keep it open in 2017 due to the ongoing budget impasse.

"Why can the city find millions to hold a celebration for the Cubs, but can't find a few thousand more for sheltering these homeless men?" said Pastor Jean Darling, of the People's Church of Chicago.

On Tuesday, advocates for the homeless - and the homeless themselves - demanded that the city and state find the money to keep the facility open, or replace the 72 beds that will be lost when it closes.

"They're doing to exact opposite of what is drastically needed. We need more shelter beds, not less," said Ryne Poelker.

In a statement, a spokesperson for the Chicago Department of Family and Support Services said only 16 remain at the facility and say: "When DFSS learned earlier this year that this shelter would close permanently by the end of the year, we acted quickly to ensure a smooth transition for all impacted clients... We will ensure each of these clients has access to a safe and warm option for relocation."

But for a pregnant Marlena Gomez, help can't come soon enough.

"I generally just stay inside the tent to stay warm," she said.

Those are the chances that many who are homeless and live along the viaduct are taking. Officials are concerned that when this shelter closes, the numbers of people living under the viaduct will continue to grow.