Stings, Sweeps, Spinsters and Successes!
What a year!
I live in an extremely diverse neighborhood; where rich and poor come together, where different religions, ethnicities and races live in close proximity and have to face one another. This is a beautiful thing, but to some, this diversity sadly causes rage, harassment of the poor and bullying of the weak. Uptown is never a dull place, full of lovers and haters, full of her vast contrasts, striking contradictions and beautiful community!
With this mind; 2016 has been a year plagued with many negative ramifications and cruel tactics, yet despite it all, hope continues to rise out of the ashes of despair. Despite all the complexity of this year, I want to sum 2016 up with 4 words; Stings, Sweeps, Spinsters and Successes!
The leadership in our neighborhood oversaw 2 major drug busts this year in Uptown, where combined, over 50 people were arrested. Our alderman and other leaders used their tools of propaganda to highlight how they'd captured drug lords and the community was safer because of their efforts. Yet, through a little research and knowing many of the victims of these stings, none of these captured men and women were gang kingpins like Jeff Fort and Al Capone, but rather they could be considered as the poorest and weakest members of our community.
These 2 stings successfully incarcerated those who are elderly, homeless, from Nursing Homes and have disabilities. Knowing they craved money, undercover cops successfully tricked these weak, mentally ill or addicted citizens into purchasing illegal substances for them, helping them earn stints in jail. Because they couldn't afford bail or were on parole, some are sadly spending Christmas behind bars, while others have been released and have shared their story with me, affecting them beyond their "time served".
Despite our leadership's progressive rhetoric, these stings do not gel with the "harm-reduction" and "housing-first" models they love to verbalize, in fact, these incarcerations increase harm and make housing harder for these individuals. I know of a few of these guys lost housing and ended up homeless again because of these stings, while others lost opportunities to get housed. The original problem has been exaggerated through these meaningless and costly stings!
I'm not speaking hot air, I know, because we've had to help them start again! What they really need is not someone crying "harm-reduction", because it's the latest word, but leaders who will actually live out it's implications and view addiction as a health issue and not criminalize them, and that's how we can help these individuals and make our community safer.
Anyone who comes to Uptown is struck by the extent of her homelessness. The fact there's people living under Lake Shore Drive is obvious to all, and the sight of many tents on the concrete has caused some of the community to foam at the mouth with rage, while others have displayed remarkable acts of generosity and compassion. Some call for increased criminalization of these poor folk, while others fight for their legal rights. Some call for their disappearance, while others (like myself) have dedicated many hours in trying to help people get into safe suitable housing.
As a result of this pressure, the Mayor and his people initiated a Pilot Project, to help get a certain number of these individuals out of Uptown's Tent Cities and into permanent housing. Though slow, and well behind schedule, the project was successful for these certain folks and them alone, while ignoring those hidden or came later! This success happened mainly because of a group of wonderful dedicated Uptown workers networking together and because temporary "bridge" housing was made available, saving people from the life-threatening elements this winter.
Yet, despite all this, the viaducts are still jam-packed full and the remaining residents feel harassed by Rahm, Cappleman and those under their commands. Frequent street sweeps and cleanings were ordered by those in power, making those living in tents feel discriminated against by the very people that should be fighting for them. Because these sweeps are even happening through the bitter cold of the winter months, City Tent residents feel these sweeps are torturous and a passive-aggressive way of getting them to move.
Imagine having to move all your belongings every week. Imagine ripping your tent while moving it, knowing that gaping hole can cause hypothermia. Imagine having to miss work to ensure that your tent and important documents don't get tossed. Imagine being a sickly 72 year old man and having to stand in freezing temperatures and wait until a large number of highly paid police and city workers come and do their job. Imagine being homeless and watching thousands upon thousands of dollars being spent weekly on these sweeps which could go toward housing and achievable goals. Now imagine feeling stomped on already for being homeless and having to go through this indignity as well.
These stings, sweeps and the closing of a local shelter a couple days before Christmas have highlighted how much spinsters love to justify their twisted schemes. I've watched as the machines of propaganda tell different stories to different audiences, letting them hear what they want to hear. Their words and actions are traveling on vastly different paths and we're all witnessing the lies and deception!
How can it be out of love and compassion, how can you build trust, when you torture people with these sweeps?
How do these stings benefit those struggling with mental illnesses and homelessness?
How can you justify using the words "harm-reduction" and "housing-first" while locking up the "poorest of the poor", while wasting thousands on sweeps, while spending millions of tax dollars on luxury high rises, while not providing a little extra cash to stop a men's shelter from closing just days before Christmas?
Despite all the negativity, 2016 was not lost! Success happened. Movement happened. Good things happened! Many people, with love and compassion in their hearts, rallied together and refused to let the powers-that-be bully and terrorize those at the bottom! Just as Jesus brought His Love and Grace into a world with a corrupt empire, just as Jesus brought His ground-on-up Kingdom into an environment where religious and political thugs controlled their surroundings, I witnessed people at the bottom rise up together with love and compassion for the "least of these" and challenge the bullies that seek to control Uptown and Chicago.
Despite the ugliness of this year's stings, there have been people who haven't ignored them, letting them know they're still human, are worthy and part of society. Incarcerations squelch hope, arrests are dehumanizing and things are sabotaged through the process, but I've witnessed those who help people start again, assisting them not stay in a rut, by getting important documents and press toward housing and self sufficiency.
Despite the cruelty of this year's sweeps, compassion and advocacy for those at the bottom has risen enormously. It's been such a beautiful sight, as someone who's done outreach for well over a decade, I remember years when it seemed no one cared for folks sleeping rough, but now tons of compassionate people bring tents, blankets, mats, socks, hand warmers, food and so forth every day. I remember times when we'd find someone frozen under a viaduct without a tent and barely a blanket, and we'd pick them up and take them somewhere warm. Those days are now over; people are rallying together, networking together, protesting together and giving together so those being stomped on can rise up together and move upward and onward.
Despite the spinning of all the spinsters, people are bringing the truth, not allowing these bullies to speak unchallenged and relentless lies! Fearless protests and actions have happened all year, advocating for those without a voice, giving the voiceless a voice. By watching what the "powers-that-be" do, they can no longer just arrest people without cause or toss someone's personal belongings away. The beautiful thing is, the spinsters are being held accountable and their hypocrisy is being brought to light, as the poor are being lifted up and loved by a wonderful network of people who truthfully care!
Despite mourning, I am comforted and have hope! Despair will never leave us, but we are called to follow the example of Jesus and live out the Kingdom of God in a world of evil empires and oppressive regimes. We are called to bring hope, peace and love into our communities. We are called to bring light into the darkness, and I've had the privilege of seeing that this year.
Successful movement happened. Miracles happened. People who had no keys, now have keys. People who slept on the cold hard concrete, now have a warm comfy bed. People who slept on the crowded floor of our shelter, now have a place to call their own. Homeless families who had to cram in a tiny room, now have a three bedroom apartment to spread out in. People who had to sign up for showers and line up for food, can now move freely at their own schedule. People who were once trapped in homelessness, now live with new freedom and hopeful expectations.
With all odds against them, I was able to witness tons of people go from the struggles of homelessness into permanent housing. This has been a record year of successful movement for us at CCO and for those sleeping rough in Uptown. I have never witnessed so much movement! This happened because dedicated caring people rallied and networked together for the sake of those who've been marginalized and ostracized. This happened because people experiencing homelessness lifted each other up and encouraged one another! This happened, because as Dr Seuss said, "a person's a person, no matter how small."
Be encouraged; rally together, fight together, network together, be compassionate together, be truthful together and do right together, for in doing so, God is glorified and successful movement does happen despite all odds!