Gay Liberation Network co-founder Andy Thayer, Northside Action for Justice member Marc Kaplan and Uptown Tent City organizer Ryne Poelker were arrested at the Uptown offices of 34th ward Ald. James Cappleman Oct. 3.
They were charged with criminal trespassing and taken in a paddy wagon to the precinct at Belmont and Western. .
Thayer told Windy City Times that they were released from custody around midnight.
He added that they were treated well but "it helps that we were white."
Thayer, Poelker and Kaplan had organized a march for homeless rights that evening attended by more than 150 people.
Until the arrest, the scene at Cappleman's office was very much the same as it was almost a year ago when, on Nov. 11, 2015, Thayer and protestors confronted the alderman about the lack of homeless housing and amenities in Uptown and Chicago Police Department (CPD) regular sweeps of Uptown's Cricket Hill Park and the tents underneath the viaduct at Wilson and Lakeshore Drive.
Cappleman had seemed unmoved by the demonstrator's frustration before asking them to leave and closing the office.
According to Thayer, one year later, the plight of Uptown's homeless has become worse.
"Cappleman has dramatically escalated his activities from a year ago by pushing the homeless out of public spaces, the now weekly cleanings and the threat to confiscate tents," Thayer told Windy City Times after he was released from custody. "It's hard to believe that the ward could get any more anti-homeless, anti-poor and anti-diversity thank it was before. That's what has people so angry."
So, this year, Thayer and his fellow organizers refused to leave Cappleman's office until their grievances were given a proper hearing. The chant both inside and from those gathered outside Cappleman's office was "Tent cities, stand your ground."
At 5:30 pm, Thayer, Poelker, Kaplan, representatives from the Black Lives Matter movement and the protestors had gathered only a hundred feet from the viaduct and the tents which line the sidewalk on both sides.
For people like Maria Murray and her husband Joe, they are all that stand between them and the lethal temperatures of the coming Chicago winter.
Joe has been homeless for the past three years and his wife for 18 months.
"We are trying our best to get out of the situation," Maria told Windy City Times. "It is very difficult to rise from it. We spend a half-a-day just looking for a place to shower and now the city is trying to remove our tents. It's an offhand way of trying to get rid of the homeless."
"Here we are again on the eve of winter and, not only do a lot of people not have tents but the city is threatening to illegally confiscate [them], Thayer said. "We are out here today because the city has conducted a relentless campaign against the homeless, illegally confiscating people's property. We have seen sweeps down here every Friday done under the guise of cleanings."
In 2015, Mayor Rahm Emanuel's administration formed an agreement with the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless (CCH) not to dispose of a homeless individual's property.
In March of 2016 the CCH filed a lawsuit against the city on behalf of Robert Henderson after the city threw away all of his belongings.
Last month a Cook County judge ruled that the lawsuit could proceed despite efforts to have it dismissed.
Thayer also accused the city of clearing out the tents that were erected alongside the Graeme Stewart Elementary School closed in 2013 and sold in 2015 to private developers for over $5 million.
"They gave away a public pedestrian mall so they could clean out the homeless," Thayer told the protestors. "We've lost over 1,000 units of SRO [Single Room Occupancy] housing under our current alderman, more than the rest of the city combined."
He noted that the Northside Housing shelter at 941 West Lawrence will close by the holidays owing to a budget shortfall of $100,000.
"Yet we've got $15.8 million slated to go to luxury high-rises," Thayer said.
"All we need is $100,000 it will keep out shelter open. What's the hold up?" Poelker asked. "They spend more than that alone on the cleanings every single week to throw peoples items away. Our alderman spends more money on planters than he does to keep a shelter open."
The protestors marched up Wilson resisting CPD efforts to keep them to the sidewalk.
They paused at the Stewart elementary school on Kenmore which has been fenced off before proceeding to Cappleman's office where they erected tents on the street alongside.
Thayer, Poelker, Kaplan and others went inside.
Kaplan presented the alderman with a list of demands that included stopping the "harassment of the homeless much of which is illegal and institutional, to extend full funding to preserve all existing affordable housing and to end public funding for luxury housing."
Kaplan also asserted that the 46th Ward Zoning and Land Use Committee is comprised of "high income property owners."
"We need to replace it with one that is truly representative of the racial, ethnic and economic diversity of our ward," Kaplan said.
The alderman appeared to agree with the first three demands with the repeated phrase "absolutely yes."
However, when it came to the request to end public funding for luxury housing, Cappleman said "No, I won't go there."
He also stated that the Zoning and Land Use Committee would remain the same.
At 7:00 pm, Cappleman left.
Thayer, Poelker and Kaplan remained inside demanding that Cappleman "put people before profits."
After two hours, they were confronted by at least a dozen CPD officers and, one-by-one, handcuffed and led away via the back exit while the remaining crowd outside voiced support of them.
"It was absurd," Thayer said referring to the number officers who arrested them. "Total overkill. Just to start, the compensation of each of these CPD officers, including benefits, is $147,000-per-year. That would be more than enough to keep the 941 West Lawrence avenue shelter open."
A statement released by Cappleman Oct 4 read "Affordable housing and homelessness issues continue you to be my top priorities. I have been urging City officials for years to use a Housing First model to address homelessness and was glad to see this begin to be implemented with the Chronic Homelessness Pilot Program in Uptown."
"I will continue to push the Mayor and the Department of Family and Support Services to use the Housing First model," he added. "At this critical time, it is incredibly important that we, as a city, increase the amount of affordable housing for those on the verge of becoming homeless. I will remain an advocate for and call on my colleagues to continue to work with me on increasing the funding for the Low Income Housing Trust Fund that supports these folks in our city that are the most vulnerable. The Uptown area continues to have the most subsidized housing for those residents that have little or no income. I think Uptown is a model for the rest of the City in providing subsidized affordable housing for the most vulnerable."
Thayer isn't buying it.
"Cappleman has been taking credit for all sorts of other people's work," he said. "A bare handful of people have received the housing that was promised under the pilot programless than a dozen. If someone dies of exposure because they lose their tent that will be on his head. This alderman has spent tons of city resources harassing the homeless. He refused to introduce a bill into the City Council to provide the $100,000 to keep the [Northside Housing] shelter open for the next year. It's not a question of lack of money, it is the political priorities of the mayor and this alderman with over-policing rather than things that actually help people."
"I find it really appalling that another gay person is pushing attacks on the homeless," Thayer added. "For any representative of our community to be crapping upon another group of people who are having their rights violated is just unconscionable."
Please visit Uptown Tent City for more information or to donate towards tents for the homeless.
Residents are also invited to join Uptown Tent City volunteers every Friday morning at the Wilson and Lakeshore viaduct beginning at 9 am to help protect homeless individual property and tents during the weekly sweeps.