The Ewing Annex Hotel is one of two cubicle-style hotels in the city of Chicago that provide affordable housing for low income men. Not so long ago there were many affordable hotels that had daily and weekly rates that provided a necessary societal service. Everyone needs a place to live, a little corner of the world to carve out and call their own. For some that little corner may be a 250k condo on the north side, for others, it's a 5 X 7 $300.00 a month cubicle down on S. Clark Street.
Over the past weeks, a group of Chicago aldermen have engaged in a process of economic cleansing within the city's finical district, through a proposed ordinance that would ban cubicle style hotels. This government effort threatens to leave hundreds of men without housing, under the guise of having the lowly and downtrodden's best interests in mind. "It's for their own good," so they chatter...
I'm writing this in order to offer the government officials involved an opportunity to see WHOM they are talking about when they say "homeless and low-income people." Let's add a face to this political chatter:
Who are these people that are marked for elimination?
I've spent the last three months embedded within the homeless population in the downtown area. I have gotten to know many of these people on a personal level, and the experience has changed my past ideas about homeless people. I even spent an entire night out in an alley with several homeless folks, on one of Chicago's renowned below zero winter nights. On another occasion, I was a guest at the Ewing Annex Hotel to see what it was like. Life on the streets is rough, and the Ewing Annex Hotel is the last oasis for the most downtrodden in our city.
When I first went into this project, I thought that around 30% of the homeless population had mental illness issues. I've had to adjust my calculations to around 80%. Everyone assumes - with sufficient reason - that most long-term homeless/low-income people have serious drug and alcohol problems. This is often true, but underlying all of this is mental illness. Some are less functional than others. For example:
This is Herbert. Herbert, hasn't had a change of clothes in years, not months, but several years. Lately he's been limping because his scabies has gotten so bad, streams of puss are oozing down his legs. Herbert will not generally accept any help, other than food when he is really hungry. When we recently had our exceptionally cold days, I tried to get Herbert some help, but the way the laws are now, there isn't much anyone can do... or, so they chatter...
More than just attempting to close down the hotels, this wave of economic cleansing includes an ordinance, introduced by Alderman Cappleman, that would make it unlawful to use a bus shelter for anything other than waiting for the next bus. This is Herbert getting a little sleep at a bus shelter on State St. I would like to ask the alderman, how would this ordnance help Herbert?
This is another homeless resident that lives in the downtown area. His name is Phil. As much as I could, I've made sure that Phil has had warm clothes and food throughout this past winter. Phil eats a lot of garbage. What help do these politicians have for folks like Phil in their proposed ordinances?
These are just a couple faces of the severely mentally disabled people who live in the downtown area. But, not everyone is severely mentally disabled. Some are simply on disability or other forms of fixed income. These two gentlemen are physically disabled and on fixed incomes. Both stay at the Ewing Annex Hotel.
Without the hotel, the number of people sleeping under Lower Wacker Drive will dramatically increase. Here's what the accommodations look like on Lower Wacker:
There are four separate communities of people, as well as many individual bedrolls, located on Lower Wacker right now. If these politicians have their way, there will be many more men added to the ranks of the homeless sleeping in downtown alleyways and on Lower Wacker.
Homelessness continues to grow throughout the U.S., with the financial crisis of 2008 being a major contributing factor for the increase. What is the number one obstacle to getting people off the street? Affordable housing.
These proposals, to close cubicle style hotels, are just the latest in a much larger process of economic cleansing that has occurred over the past three decades within our American society - and the world. Despite the claims of concern routinely uttered by politicians, poor people have been continually marginalized and swept aside, pushed further and further under the societal rug - crushed under the weight of our consumer driven economy.
For now, the Ewing Annex Hotel still provides affordable – albeit basic – shelter for some 200 men. For $15.00 a night, $90.00 a week, or $300.00 a month a man can rent a 5 X 7 cubicle and keep off the cold, hard streets of Chicago.
Ald. James Cappleman (46th) sponsored the ordinance.
Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) co-sponsored the ordinance.
Ald. Will Burns (4th) hotel resides in his ward. I've contacted Burns' office to offer an opportunity for him to respond.
Filed under: Chicago Politics