By Jesse Wright | staff writer
Most of the complaints at the October West Loop CAPS meeting were given regarding issues of homelessness.
Parked for the Night
Residents first complained about the homeless living in neighborhood parks. Sgt. Anthony Dombrowski said he had heard a mattress in the park had been removed, and a woman
corrected him and said two couch cushions had been in Harrison Park and they had been used for sleeping, but she’d removed them herself.
“I won’t be doing that again,” she said. “But I bagged them and disposed of them.”
Dombrowski said being homeless isn’t a crime in and of itself, so the police have a hard time addressing the issue.
“We don’t want to have people sleeping in the parks, but there are some systemic homeless issues in our district and people need a place to sleep,” he said. “It’s a challenge as a police department because we don’t want to criminalize homelessness.”
Another woman said she’d spoken with some of the homeless people and they seemed to have no desire to find other accommodations. She said one “young man” said he got a mattress from Presidential Towers, an apartment complex in the West Loop.
“I went to their dumpster and found it empty except for a nice mattress,” she said.
“I’d rather sleep on a mattress than the ground,” Dombrowski said.
A man in the crowd said he’s from State Place Condominiums. Roughly a couple of dozen people then raised their hands and said they, too, were from State Place.
“We have a problem with people with mental health issues going into our lobby [and] smearing feces around. What can we do to help you solve this problem or make it a little more livable?” the man asked the police officers.
A woman who identified herself as the property manager said one woman in particular visits a public lobby on the premises, and if she is asked to leave, she will urinate on the ground or smear feces on the wall.
Officer Necole Bryson said officers did investigate the situation but, as with homelessness, the issue is more of a social welfare issue than a policing issue.
“Locking an individual like that up and putting her in jail for two or six hours isn’t going to fix the issue,” Dombrowski said.
He said just because a person is mentally ill doesn’t mean the person belongs in jail.
“We can’t arrest a person who is mentally ill,” he said. “We will take them to the hospital. … We have certain entities within the city that might be better able to address that. Mental illness is a complex issue and we don’t have the tools to address it.”
Dombrowski said even if the woman were arrested, she’d be out in a few hours anyway.
“We can remove her, but then what happens? She comes back,” Dombrowski said.
Bryson said the police would give the property more no trespassing signs and Dombrowski said 7-Eleven has been known to play music to keep the homeless away.
“Especially if it’s the same loop over and over again. People get annoyed,” he said. “There are also certain lights—and we don’t recommend using them because it’s akin to torture—but they take away all color so all you see is grays. And that’s very uncomfortable for people.”
Bryson also suggested starting a block club to increase safety.
“Maybe start a walking club,” she said. “Identify things in the community that could be different and that you can work with us on.”
Another woman asked who residents could call to help the mentally ill woman.
“The fire department, if it’s a medical emergency,” Dombrowski said.
“Mental health services are very limited in the state of Illinois,” Bryson said. “A lot of funding has been cut. … As it is now, Cook County Jail is probably the largest provider of mental health treatment in Chicago and maybe in Illinois.”
One woman in the audience suggested calling Thresholds, a nonprofit provider of mental health services.
“They have a nurse and other health care professionals that will go out and assess a person’s needs,” she said. But, she added, she talked to people living under a underpass and they told her they don’t want help.
“They have to want to be helped. A doctor can’t force it. A police officer can’t help. They have to want help,” Dombrowski said.
On the Near West Side, the Pacific Guard Mission on Canal Street is the closest shelter, but Bryson said if the person has caused problems in the past, they’re banned and not allowed back.
“A lot of the homeless, they don’t want to obey rules. They want freedom,” Dombowski said.
Toward the end of the meeting, residents asked about a shooting inside a car on Sept. 30 that killed two people and injured two more. Dombowski said the car was passing through the area, had nothing to do with residents in the area and didn’t wound any area residents.
There were five people in the car, and just prior to midnight, they got into an argument and then someone in the car began shooting.
“With the availability of guns, that’s what happens,” Dombrowski said.
The next meeting is Nov. 14 at 6:30 p.m. at 525 S State St.