Home sweet home for the homeless | Slideshows | Chicago Reader

Home sweet home for the homeless 

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Terry, 59, was one of the last people to leave Rezkoville after security guards gave numerous warnings that the land would be cleared for development. With a patched-up tent, a plastic chair, candy canes hanging from the trees, a gate woven from branches, and a fire burning even in summer, this is where Terry felt at home. “Terry, he just won’t leave!” says his friend Allan, who used to venture into Rezkoville to check on him even after the area was cordoned off.
“Indian Pete,” 51, sits under the Foster Avenue viaduct near the lakefront with his friend Gus, 55. City officials and alderman James Cappleman have long clashed with advocates over attempts to move “homeless” residents from this and other Uptown viaducts. Pete, a member of the Ojibwe tribe, dryly notes that the tile mosaic under the viaduct celebrates Native American heritage.
Angel, 58, was one of many Mexican and Central American men living under the 18th Street bridge just east of the Chicago River between stints working for Chinese restaurants around the midwest. They were sent by local employment agencies that are being sued by the Illinois attorney general. Angel died here on January 20. Under the bridge his friends arranged a memorial altar filled with candles, flowers, and photos and surrounded by several chairs, one with a sign that read in Spanish, “Don’t sit here, this is Angel’s seat.”
Rhonda and Dan, 39 and 31, came to Chicago from Jamestown, New York, a struggling rust-belt town near Buffalo once known as the furniture capital of America. They used to live in a tent together in Rezkoville, but Rhonda died in June from an infection related to her heroin use. “At the end of the day, back at the tent for the night, just me and Rhonda hanging out, we could just be ourselves,” Dan remembers.
Since Rhonda died and Rezkoville was cleared, Dan has lived behind an electrical box in the Loop and slept on el trains, hoping to get off heroin. “I have to find something else to center my life around,” he said the day after her death. “It’s like a void. I’m so used to hustling all my waking moments.”
Gene, 62, was known by some as the “mayor” of Rezkoville, where he had a large tent surrounded by neighbors. After the land was cleared, he moved to the site of abandoned grain elevators on the Chicago River—farther away from downtown than most Rezkoville residents wanted to stray.
Ross and Joanna, both in their 20s, in their friend’s Rezkoville fort, an elaborate structure made out of mattress box springs, tree branches, and other materials, where they often cooked elaborate meals over an open fire. Others frequently wanted to move in with them, but they were selective about whom they allowed into their property.
Although some people have lived on Lower Wacker Drive for years, many of its current occupants are transitory. “This is where I stay right now, but the next time you come back you won’t see me around here,” says Cookie, a woman in her mid-50s, as traffic whizzes by the low wall where someone has scrawled this too shall pass. “I keep moving all the time.”
“The person I stay with in the tent, he’s always at me about why I act so tough, why I don’t cry,” says Valerie, 30, who lives in a tent along the Chicago River north of Harrison. “When you’re out in the streets . . . you can’t be the weakest link. You cannot be the crybaby. You cannot be the vulnerable one. You can’t be a woman on the streets. You have to be a man, more or less.”
Joshua Smith, a medical student at the University of Illinois, checks on Lucy and Ricki, 28 and 31, as part of his rounds with the Night Ministry. The pair have been together since they were teenagers, and won’t move to a shelter or go to rehab because it would mean being apart. They dream of getting an apartment, but for now call a tent or the streets their home.
Hailing from the west side, Lavelle, 57, now lives on Lower Wacker and panhandles “up top.” He needs a cane and wheelchair to get around and struggles up the Michigan Avenue stairs, but is scrupulous about keeping his spot clean, sweeping it several times a day.
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Terry, 59, was one of the last people to leave Rezkoville after security guards gave numerous warnings that the land would be cleared for development. With a patched-up tent, a plastic chair, candy canes hanging from the trees, a gate woven from branches, and a fire burning even in summer, this is where Terry felt at home. “Terry, he just won’t leave!” says his friend Allan, who used to venture into Rezkoville to check on him even after the area was cordoned off.

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