Chicago closes shelters

In a city where tents and makeshift homes are part of many working-class neighborhoods, activists, residents, homeless and handicapped citizens protested the recent closings of more downtown shelters and low-cost hotels. On Aug. 24, 150 strong, the group of mostly homeless men and women came together to march through downtown, alleging that the city has misappropriated funds that were intended to keep their shelters and low-cost housing alternatives open. Activists say that the Chicago housing crisis is deepening.

In the latest protest against the housing crisis the Coalition for Fair Community Development (CFCD) protested the closing of another South Loop affordable housing alternative, the Roosevelt Hotel, where one could find housing for $300 a month. The CFCD blames Mayor Daley.

Activists say that in the past few months Daley has been under pressure to take action against the crisis. Daley has been criticized for several of his housing- related policies: the demolition of public housing, supporting gentrification, and involvement in squashing proposals in the city council for an affordable housing set-asides program. A new allegation of misuse of city funds has recently been added to the list.

The CFCD says that Daley’s administration has been using Tax Incremental Financing (TIF) funds toward the Millennium Park project. Millennium Park is a large recreational development that has overrun its budget by at least $370 million, according to Chicago Tribune investigations. In 2001 the city used $280,000 of TIF money toward Millennium Park, while in 2000 $35 million in TIF funds went to the park. This year, to cover a $123 million city budget shortfall, the city has dipped into social service agencies, public works projects, health and sanitation departments and over $3 million of TIF funds.

TIF money is slated to be used “to help develop blighted areas, build and repair roads and infrastructure, clean polluted land and restore vacant properties,” according to city literature on the program.

Activist A. L. Loy (Alloy) said people are upset because in an area which has seen several shelters and low-cost hotels closing, with more on the way, “Daley (and his administration) seems to focus on a park that can only be utilized by a select few who are privileged enough to live in condos. The money taken from TIF could have gone to keep the Roosevelt open, improve city services in the area, or support local business.”

The North Shore, the site of Millennium Park, is one of Chicago’s most exclusive areas, while the South Loop has traditionally been the home of a number of shelters, low-cost hotels, and industrial sites.

Millennium Park is an assortment of music pavilions, ice rinks, gardens and plazas, which activists say are good for communities but not “when money is being shifted away from truly blighted areas,” according to Alloy.

When the World asked one resident of a threatened South Loop shelter where he would go if his home were to close, he replied, “I’ve lived here since my mother got sick three months ago, I ain’t got nowhere else to go.” The man walked with a severe limp and had a shortened left arm.

This latest protest is one of a string of housing-related complaints that communities have addressed to the mayor. One Green Party activist expressed approval of the growing marching season saying, “We need to keep getting people to come out. It’s the only way things will ever change.”





Brandi Kishner is a contributor in Chicago. She can be reached at brandikishner@yahoo.com