Our Update to the Community Regarding Those Experiencing Houselessness

To the Chicago Market Community,

As a community-owned organization, Chicago Market values all members of our community - not just those who are Owners, but all who reside in our Uptown neighborhood. One member of our community who is experiencing houselessness is residing in our parking lot. As Chicago Market is unable to allow people to live in our parking lot, we have been working to address this in the most humane way possible. Today we are writing to provide a brief explanation of what has occurred, what we have learned, and what we plan to do next.

People experiencing houselessness have been present in our parking lot for quite some time. Beginning in November 2020, we began an outreach effort to the individuals living there in coordination with the Alderman's Director(s) of Housing and Community Affairs and with Homeless Services within the Chicago Department of Family & Support Services (DFSS). The people living there relocated, but one individual returned and has remained on the property.

While it is important to us, and central to our values, to handle this situation in a way that is sensitive to the needs of all involved, in order for Chicago Market to utilize the space fully as well as for the Market to begin construction, our parking lot simply cannot host permanent residents. This is for a number of reasons. Here are just a few:

•  We are concerned about safety and sanitation at the site, including once construction begins. As a tenant, we are responsible for keeping the property clean and safe, as well as accessible to our landlord, the Chicago Transit Agency (CTA), for maintenance.

•  We are concerned about the threats of violence that have been made.

•  The presence of people in the lot may violate the terms of our lease, and CTA could have these individuals removed without our permission.

•  The presence of people in the lot may impact our insurance coverage, and leaves us potentially liable if something were to happen, including injury or fire.

In an effort to approach the situation with dignity and respect, we started by opening up a direct conversation with the person who returned to live on the property. The board member charged with this communication on our team explains that, "This issue was important to me because of my own experiences with chronic unstable housing as a youth and Veteran homelessness related to mental health care. All of my/our efforts have come from a place of shared experience and empathy. I also became involved because I believe that the use of violence, including police violence, should be avoided at all cost and is not the ethical response to houselessness or mental health crisis."

We explained to the person that we regrettably could not allow him to stay there. We asked if he had another place he could go or if there were any organizations he had been working with that we could contact on his behalf. He was not interested in discussing his options to relocate. The person claims a belief that he has been given permission by the CTA to live there (he has not).

We tried assisting him with connecting to his preferred community support organization, Uptown Baptist Church, however we got no further in our efforts. Whenever opportunities for help were presented, all were refused. During this time, members of our site stewardship team (as well as members of the public) faced threats of violence, and one of our board members was assaulted by the person. At least one fire occurred among his belongings, damaging the exterior of our building.

After several conversations, with the person continuing to refuse all offers of assistance, we again requested support for the person from DFSS and Chicago’s Homeless Outreach & Prevention (HOP) team that works to engage unsheltered homeless residents into services that will lead to housing or shelter. These efforts to provide support for the person were unsuccessful, which left Chicago Market with the responsibility of ensuring the safety of the property.

To that end, on March 15th, Chicago’s Homeless Programs manager arranged for a 7-day notice to be posted in our parking lot for a clean-up that would be conducted by Streets and Sanitation. It is important to note, however, that the clean-up effort included a plan to help the person successfully relocate his belongings.

On Monday, March 22nd, DFSS and Streets and Sanitation arrived to help the person relocate. A social service staff member familiar with the person’s previous history of threatening others with violence advised the city employees to ask for the Chicago Police Department (CPD) to accompany them. The person stated he had made arrangements with a local church to pick up his belongings and help him move to a safe place elsewhere. The person requested 24 hours to move his belongings.

Yesterday, March 23rd, Streets and Sanitation arrived to find that nothing had been moved. We and Streets and Sanitation called our CPD contacts, and shortly thereafter CPD officers arrived. They again coordinated with the person, as well as a group of community members who were present at the parking lot. DFSS was called and arrived with a large van which they offered to use to move any/all items the person wanted to another location. CPD advised us that the person stated he will work with DFSS to move the majority of his items, but wanted a day or two to give some items away as well. As of today, the person remains in the parking lot while we continue our search for a supportive organization equipped to help him, that he will also accept that help from. This remains an untenable situation due to the safety risks associated with his continued presence.

The Chicago Market board has heard the concerns over our handling of the person’s presence in our parking lot. We have asked our CPD contact to respond only to emergency calls at this time.

We continue to strive to handle this situation with respect for the life, dignity, and safety of everyone involved. We welcome suggestions, connections to social services and other resources, and continued feedback. In furtherance of that, we are holding an online listening session on Friday, March 26 at 7pm and invite your participation. Link to join: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/82932356602?pwd=bE5TNmJUSTVUOTBHUjg5UkhMTXhyQT09

In cooperation,

Chicago Market Board of Directors

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