A coalition of advocates for the homeless protested outside the offices of two City Council members this week in a push to get a question added to the November ballot that would create dedicated funding to provide housing for people living on the street.
About 50 advocates with the Bring Chicago Home Coalition gathered on Monday outside the West Side ward office of Ald. Jason Ervin (28), and about 30 protested the following day at the office of Ald. Scott Waguespack (32) on the North Side, according to organizers.
“There are 58,000 people experiencing homelessness in Chicago right now, that’s crisis level,” Caesar Hill, an organizer with the coalition, said of the need to address the issue.
The Coalition wants the City Council to add a referendum question to the general election ballot in November that would ask voters to approve a 1.9% increase in the real estate transfer tax on properties sold for more than $1 million to fund housing and supportive services for people experiencing homelessness.
Currently, 17 City Council members support the proposal, but the group needs 26 members to sign on before it can move to the mayor’s desk.
While running for mayor, the coalition says Lightfoot promised to replace the real estate transfer tax with a progressive tax to provide a revenue source for housing and homelessness initiatives, but so far has not backed their referendum campaign.
Hill, 71, said the city typically only addresses homelessness at times of emergency, such as during extreme weather.
“With our plan, we can house over 12,000 people in the next decade,” Hill said.
Coalition members said they chose Ervin’s ward because it has the highest rate of homelessness in the city and said he previously stonewalled their proposal, citing a priority to fund violence prevention initiatives.
But coalition members argue that violence prevention and ending homelessness are linked, and pointed to “Walking Man” Joseph Kromelis, who was sleeping near Trump Tower in May when a man poured a cup of gasoline on him and set him on fire. Kromelis suffered third-degree burns to more than half of his body.
Joseph Guardia, 27, has been charged with attempted murder and arson in the attack.
Lorna Bennett, an outreach assistant for the coalition, said that during a time she experienced homelessness she resisted going to a shelter, despite suffering abuse from family members she stayed with.
“I stayed as long as I could despite the abuse because I felt it was safer than going to a shelter,” she said.
Hill said Ervin was also selected for the demonstration because he serves as chairman of the City Council’s Black Caucus.
“Three out of 4 homeless people are African-American or Latinx,” Hill said.
Ervin met with protesters Monday, but reaffirmed his position that funding for violence prevention was the top priority for his voters, according to coalition members.
He didn’t respond to a reporter’s request for comment.
On Tuesday, the coalition moved their demonstration to Waguespack’s office.
Waguespack previously supported the coalition’s proposal, but later changed his mind and said he believed it would negatively impact seniors selling their homes, the organizers said.
Protesters said they weren’t able to meet with Waguespack. He also didn’t respond to a request for comment.
“Mental health care is part of the platform because having a secure home is good for mental health,” said Jackie Rassner, a 32nd Ward resident who said she supports the coalition’s proposal when reached by phone Thursday.
Rassner, a mother of three, said she attended the protest Tuesday to set an example for her children about taking part in direct action for causes they care about.
“Sometimes you can fix things things with a bottle of water or a granola bar,” she said. “Sometimes you can’t and need to fix a broken system.”
Michael Loria is a staff reporter at the Chicago Sun-Times via Report for America, a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster the paper’s coverage of communities on the South and West sides.