Originally published December 3, 2015
Letter to the Editor of Windy City Times
Now that Windy City Times (WCT) editor Tracy Baim’s one-night, feel-good extravaganza called “Sleep Out Chicago” is over, it is time to evaluate its impact. The positive developments were that reportedly 200 people rallied to sleep out in the park for a night in an effort to highlight LGBT youth homelessness, and $40,000 were raised for 19 Chicago-area charities badly in need of funds due to the ongoing state budget crisis.
But a price was paid. The event was held yards away from where several illegal police sweeps have harassed the homeless in past weeks, rousted them out in the early morning hours, and forced them to move. In addition, the cops have ticketed these destitute individuals under bogus ordinances knowing full well they cannot pay and will have extreme difficulty showing up miles away in court.
Angry homeless advocates on the Internet in the preceding weeks had called for Baim and the other organizers to use the event to forcefully condemn the illegal cop coercion. In an apparent attempt to placate the advocates, the organizers allowed a “petition … addressed to Mayor Rahm Emanuel, calling for an end to the sweeps” ( WCT ) to quietly circulate among the throng of guests that night. In addition, several speakers reportedly denounced the police sweeps from the stage.
Unfortunately, however, in the article that appeared immediately following the “sleep-out,” WCT did not feel it necessary to mention these passionate speeches. Why not? Given Baim and her newspaper’s close ties with Chicago’s Democratic Party, could it be that she wished to mute criticism of the police department, spare further embarrassment to the city’s mayor, and not put public funding for the charities involved at that night’s event at any risk?
Furthermore, our suspicions are only compounded when Baim and the others provided a platform for Democratic Ald. James Cappleman, in whose ward the sweeps are taking place. This is the same guy whose office had been targeted by the homeless and their advocates demanding he take immediate action and go on record condemning the sweeps, which he refused to do. Indeed, this is the same guy who is pals with well-heeled real estate developers and is responsible during his tenure for eliminating more low-income housing from his ward than the rest of the city of Chicago combined.
When called out about these matters, Baim responded that she only wanted to “bring everybody to the table” to address the homeless issue. This is disingenuous. As she well knows, not everybody at the table, or on her stage—certainly not Cappleman or the cops who protected her event—is of equal good will toward the homeless. It is necessary to take sides and call out those who are not and expose them for what they are. “Sleep-Out Chicago” could have been billed as an event that would do this in a loud and principled way so the mayor’s office might have listened, but that was not its goal. Instead, it was billed strictly as a fundraiser and promoted as such.
Challenging powerful interests in Chicago responsible for creating and sustaining homelessness was treated as an incidental side issue and barely mentioned in WCT.
We feel a real opportunity was lost.