Uptown Gentrification and Housing Discrimination!

Maurice* is locked up again, he is sleeping tonight in a cold hard cell downstate! This nonviolent 60-year-old man, who is mentally ill and extremely sick isn't eligible for parole until July next year. He remains behind bars because he was guilty of being homeless, shoving a little glass pipe into his mouth and smoking the ingredients packed in it, cracking open cans of beer on public streets and failing to meet appointments! 

Maurice's story makes me weep! I've known him for over a decade, and this man possesses an addictive personality, a body that's withering away, and he has been rotating in and out of jail, prison, and homelessness! This devastating cycle continues, not because he's a danger to society, but simply because he struggles to escape from the lure of cocaine and alcohol. It continues because he's homeless and therefore uses these substances in places where the authorities can trick him and catch him. It continues because he's poor and unable to afford bail or lawyers. It continues because, in his sickly state and struggles with a severe mental illness, he often fails to meet his parole officers when they tell him too!

This man doesn't need prison! Maurice needs a home. He needs help. He needs support! 

Maurice doesn't need jail, but he could certainly use the 2 popular catch-phrases "Harm Reduction" and "Housing First" implemented into his life. They are often used to help those who have more money and resources, while retribution and judgment are used on those who are without privilege. I would describe both these 2 catch-phrases as principles and ideals based on the goal of helping others become whole and well. 

"Harm Reduction" is a creative approach to help someone reduce the harm they're doing to themselves and others. "Harm Reduction" sees a health crisis in someone's life and works on helping that person set goals to become healthier and less reliant on a destructive substance or lifestyle. 

The term "Housing First" is described by HUD this way...
"Housing First is an approach to quickly and successfully connect individuals and families experiencing homelessness to permanent housing without preconditions and barriers to entry, such as sobriety, treatment or service participation requirements. Supportive services are offered to maximize housing stability and prevent returns to homelessness as opposed to addressing predetermined treatment goals prior to permanent housing entry." 

As you can see, "Harm Reduction" and "Housing First" both oppose the callous and meaningless locking up of those who struggle with addiction, are mentally ill and are sick. When these 2 models work together, (and I've personally witnessed the results myself), it's cheaper on society, harm is reduced, people are housed, hope is restored, community is established, and everyone is healthier! 

My Ward's alderman, James Cappleman, loves to use these 2 popular catch-phrases in his speeches, yet his actions fail to back up his words. He often does what's contrary to the "Harm Reduction" and "Housing First" approaches. We don't need politicians who do the exact opposite, who fool the public with their false rhetoric, but we need politicians and leaders who will live out what they say.

You can't promote "Harm Reduction" if you call the police to have someone arrested because they have an open can of alcohol on the street. I have personally witnessed him and his spouse doing just this to Maurice on Broadway and I've crossed the street to warn him so he wouldn't get harassed by the police, go to jail or get fined.

You also can't promote "Housing First" if you're behind and backing the selling of affordable and subsidized housing, which in turn is going to developers who make it next to impossible for poor people to move into! You can't promote "Housing First" if certain tax breaks (TIF and TOA) aren't going to help house those who are homeless, but those who are already wealthy. You can't promote "Housing First" is you're not using your power to eradicate the enormous and insurmountable barriers there are for those who are poor and want to live in Uptown.

The Pilot Project, (a recent initiative aimed at housing 75 individuals living in tents under Lake Shore Drive), has proved that housing discrimination on the Northside is painfully real! Even though most of the residents of Uptown Tent City wanted to stay in this area, permanent housing has proved to be next to impossible to find in this ward. Housing specialists spent a ton of hours trying to meet the city's promises and provide these residents with housing within the allocated time, but countless barriers stood in the way, pushing them further and further away from the neighborhood they know and love! Sadly, due to this housing discrimination, nearly all of them ended up leaving Uptown because nothing was available here or even on the Northside!

Maurice was part of this Pilot Project! His past, his race, his criminal history, his mental illness, his addictions, his credit score, his terminal illness, his cognitive struggles and his homeless status all were used against him and he was repeatedly denied access. The time frame passed, the possibility of staying permanently in this area passed. Uptown didn't want him and he knew it! 

Any of the success in the Pilot Project happened, not because of the alderman and the city making a bunch of promises, but because a variety of people cared and rallied together for those who were living in tents! Activists, lawyers, outreach workers, clergy, housing specialists, compassionate neighbors and those who are experiencing homelessness themselves stood with and up for those in Uptown Tent City. We loved them and made sure they weren't ignored and forgotten. We lived out the "Harm Reduction" and "Housing First" principles and movement happened. 

Thanks to a group of supporters, Maurice was moving forward too! He'd been noticed, he had a host of advocates, outreach workers and counselors spurring him on and he was making progress. He actually moved into a "bridge unit" in Uptown, which uses a "no-fuss" approach with a minimal amount of paperwork to quickly get people off the streets and inside. These apartments are temporary but are used as a "bridge" to permanent housing. The "Housing First" approach was working with Maurice and he was hopeful!

I wish I could end this tale with a "happily ever after", but sadly Maurice's story doesn't end there! His history rose up and bit him again, hard! He'd been caught before in a drug sting. These stings nabbed a bunch of low-level users, labeled them as drug kingpins and then plastered their mugshots all over the Internet! These stings are used for political leverage and praising the CPD, yet I know most of those arrested; they didn't capture drug kingpins, but a bunch of poor people who were either homeless or from nursing homes who can be easily seduced by undercover cops to make a quick buck. Maurice was one of them who'd done his time, but he'd messed up his parole expectations and just after he moved into his "bridge unit", they swooped in, cuffed the poor fella and that's why he's in prison today. 

Maurice's story shows us how much housing discrimination exists today! Maurice shouldn't be in prison, he should be in his own home! 

Maurice's story shows us how unforgiving society is and how difficult it is to rise up out of the ashes. Maurice had people forgiving him, backing him and lifting him up, but the empire relentlessly tries to squash any story of redemption and sadly often succeeds in executing misery on those who need the most help! His story encourages us to unite together with like-minded people for the sake of the marginalized.

Maurice's story shouldn't cause us to surrender to the power of the empire, it should cause us to fight all the more for those who are discriminated against and are profiled against by the callous "powers-that-be". When Maurice gets out, his hope isn't going to come from the mayor, the alderman or the city, it's going to come from those who "love their neighbors as themselves" and are willing give people who've been cast aside a fresh start. He will come back to Uptown and we need to lift him up so he can move onward and upward.

Maurice's story reminds us of how Jesus opposed the empire of His day. He never surrendered but kept bringing love, hope, and life to those who were voiceless and deemed the "least of these". Jesus never forsook His call, and His compassion and forgiveness reached out to all those who were suffering and were living under the oppressive regime of His day. Jesus calls us to follow His example because He is where hope is found; bringing God's Kingdom into a callous world that loves to discriminate and pick on those who are weak. 

For Jesus is the One who boldly proclaimed: 
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
    because he has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
    and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
    to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”[f]

*Maurice is not his actual name; but everything I've written about my friend is true to the best of my ability. It is important to me that I keep his identity hidden, as he's already suffered enough.
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