Chicago homeless living in Uptown tent city say city has targeted them for years

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Residents of the tent city underneath the viaduct at Wilson Avenue and Lake Shore Drive in Uptown say the city of Chicago has tried to kick them out for years, but they're not moving without a fight.

Members of that homeless community said no one wants to live on the street; they only do because they have to, and they need safe, affordable housing in order to get off the streets. Now those residents say they may now have one less concern after the U.S. Supreme Court refused to consider whether state and local governments can make it a crime for people to sleep outside.

"It's not a crime to live in a tent,' said Thomas Gordon, Uptown tent city mayor. "It's not a crime to be homeless. But you come out and harass us all the time."

The case the justices won't hear is from Boise, Idaho, and posed the question of whether the homeless can be prosecuted using laws designed to regulate unlicensed camping and sleeping, as well as what constitutes "cruel and unusual punishment" in violation of the 8th Amendment to the Constitution.

"You and the mayor don't own Chicago proper, the citizens do," said Matthew Creasy, Uptown tent city resident.

Although the 9th Circuit Court decision affects states out west, Patricia Nix-Hodes with the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless said the court's decision has reach, and is both a victory and an opportunity.

"So it doesn't necessarily address every single thing that a city might do that would harass someone who is homeless, but I think the concept, the analysis, does apply," she said.

The people who live under the Uptown viaduct said their presence has been disputed for years. They accused the city of illegally targeting the homeless for removal, but city officials said while being homeless isn't a crime there has to be a balance between the rights of the homeless and the community.

"So we do come in and we clean because it's healthy for the participants who are living there to be in a clean environment," said Alisa Rodriguez, deputy commissioner for the Department of Family and Support Services.

While city officials said they've always maintained a commitment to respecting the rights of this vulnerable population, homeless advocates like Joseph Peery said what's needed is more affordable housing.

"If your only crime is you're poor, that's no crime," he said.
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