It’s important for me as a progressive stereotype to listen to public radio while driving and to get outraged at the news. If my hackles are especially raised, I will even tweet about it. (Like I said, progressive stereotype.) This is what transpired in October after I heard a report from WBEZ’s Odette Yousef about the common Chicago policing practice of confiscating and throwing away the tents of the homeless. According to Yousef’s story, one explanation the Chicago Police Department gives to defend the practice is a law that says it’s illegal to block a public thoroughfare. CPD cites a provision of the city’s municipal code: “No person shall use any public way for the storage of personal property, goods, wares or merchandise of any kind. Nor shall any person place or cause to be placed in or upon any public way, any barrel, box, hogshead, crate, package or other obstruction of any kind, or permit the same to remain thereon longer than is necessary to convey such article to or from the premises abutting on such sidewalk.”
OK, let’s say I park my car on a sidewalk. A cop would write me a ticket and tell me to move along, but I think we’d all be shocked if he told me to get out of the car, proceeded to smash my vehicle into a cube in front of me, and then wouldn’t even let me keep the cube. (Would he throw my hogshead of mead into the trash too?)
Regardless of the laws human beings who are homeless may or may not be breaking by setting up a tent in public, the CPD seems more concerned with optics than with law and order. The logic of the policy to a progressive stereotype such as myself seems to be: homeless people should not be publicly visible and they will be intimidated and destabilized until they’re made invisible. Never mind that there isn’t room enough in all of Chicago’s shelters to accommodate the thousands who are homeless. Even if there was, shelters are often not stable, safe places to stay.
What would help create more stability for these folks? I can think of a dozen things off the top of my head, many of which are a part of the ongoing work of the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, none of which are stealing and destroying the property, shelter, privacy, and peace of our fellow Chicagoans most in need. v