[This piece was written by Bella Perez]
In 2015, the City of Chicago’s Off-Street Cleaning Program was implemented to maintain public areas in a clean and sanitary condition, protect public health and safety, and ensure accessibility to public areas for all. These cleanings, both off-street and deep occur on every Thursday between the hours of 7:00 a.m. and 10:00 a.m.
The policy requires that all individuals, including homeless persons, be displaced from the area designated prior to street cleaning. However, such displacement has resulted in unintended consequences, such as the City facing criticism for the treatment of homeless people and discarding of possessions especially during inclement weather.
The City gives a minimum 24-hour notice in advance of off-street cleaning, and attempt to give an oral notice to those residing in Lower Wacker Drive Area and other surrounding areas (Lower Michigan Avenue, Lower South Water Street, Lower East Wacker Place, Lower Lake Street, Lower Stetson Street, and Lower Columbus Drive).
Upon request by the City or any other party, the City will meet with the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless and the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law regarding the proposed modifications. The City will also give a thirty (30) days’ notice (both oral and written) of any modifications to homeless persons congregation in the Lower Wacker Drive Area, and other areas spoken of within the policy.
Are there Off Street Cleaning Concerns?
Although one of the goals of the policy was to maintain cleanliness through the city, it frightens and concerns many homeless persons being displaced. In previous winters, it has been difficult when homeless individuals are scared that possessions such as extra blankets could be taken away. The City even admitted that is was “wrong to displace” the homeless during that time. It originally was conducted to please both the enforcers and the impacted. However, recent investigations have shown it is not being carried out in this way, as this policy has not been well received by the homeless.
Another repercussion that if more homeless people move to affluent neighborhoods, property value could decline. The influx of such individuals can possibly slow down the working person’s commute because of added foot traffic. It will be more difficult to discern from those who are truly seeking help and those that falsely proclaim need.
Brief Alternatives to Combat Homeless Displacement
Off-street cleaning would be more effective if they offered more resources for homeless persons before, after and during these cleanings. These resources should be for housing, meals and any additional help they would need. This would not only improve the relationship between the City and their citizens by means of empathy but give a more positive connotation to the word “off-street cleaning” and “deep cleaning”. Furthermore, there is no concise information for how much the City would have to spend on allocating this information to them. For example, development of new public housing units would be more costly than their current policy in place.
While the City of Chicago’s Off-Street Cleaning Program helps maintain the city’s cleanliness and protect public health and safety, as well as ensure that no person has the right to store possessions on public property, it has resulted in homeless displacement. Solving this problem is by no means easy and solutions to mitigate homeless displacement will involve developing an approach much more comprehensive than this blog. However, hopefully the alternatives articulated in this blog can be a start to the conversation of potential reform.