Chicago Department of Streets and Sanitation workers clean up waste generated by squatters under the Cicero Avenue overpass at the Stevenson Expressway. --Supplied photo
‘Here we go again’
Frustration as squatters return to expy. overpass
By Tim Hadac
Back in July, when neighborhood advocates succeeded in pressuring city and state officials to clean up years of filth under and around the Stevenson Expressway overpass at Cicero Avenue, they warned that unless the area were fenced off, the problem would return.
In the absence of fencing or any other kind of barrier, most of the squatters living on the concrete ledges under the overpass came back.
They brought clutter, and they generated food waste and other litter, as well as urine and feces since there are no toilet facilities nearby. That, in turn, has led to a resurgence of rats and other vermin.
“Well, here we go again,” said Archer Heights Civic Association President Thomas S. Baliga, whose persistence led to the July 26 cleanup, as well as a second one last month. “We warned about this, but [the Pritzker and Lightfoot Administration officials] turned a deaf ear.”
Since by Illinois Department of Transportation estimates, approximately 35,000
to 40,000 vehicles pass through the intersection
daily,the squalor is seen by large numbers of people every day: Southwest Side residents making local trips, commuters headed to and work, as well as senior corporate officers who have the authority to recommend Chicago as a good investment city, and tourists heading to and from Midway International Airport.
The November cleanup was similar to the one last summer: officials rousted the dozen or so men and women who had been living on concrete ledges, as City of Chicago human services officials—as well as the non-profit Affordable Housing Recovery–offered them housing options and services to address drug and alcohol additions.
Chicago Department of Streets and Sanitation crews cleared away the illegal encampment, discarding old blankets and discarded clothing, fast-food cups and wrappers, old beer cans and liquor bottles, hundreds of discarded needles and syringes, and more.
Baliga praised the efforts of the frontline government workers at the scene, but was sharply critical of decision makers in both the Pritzker and Lightfoot Administrations.
“Turning a blind eye to this kind of situation is unacceptable,” he said. “The governor and mayor need to stop playing ames and get serious about this.”
At last month’s cleanup, Baliga showed workers a cellphone photo that had been shared with him by a local motorist. Pictured was the body of a 39-year-old woman, her head bloodied, lying face down on one of the steep concrete embankments.
Her death last July spurred Baliga and others to demand a cleanup and a permanent solution to the encampment.
“Nothing we do can bring her back,” he told the Greater Southwest News-Herald. “But we are using her tragic death as a red flag to wave in the faces of government officials. We are trying to prevent this from happening again. The squatters here are in conditions that are dangerous and inhumane. They are vulnerable to crime, to drug overdoses, to disease from rat bites, to the elements and more.”
Even more tragic, he added, “is the fact that some of the squatters are veterans. “It’s absolutely disgraceful that these vets are being enabled to live in such a filthy environment.”
He said city and state officials “need to get them out of here and into safe housing, drug and alcohol recovery, and stable employment All of that is available. We don’t want to back here in January or February, watching an ambulance take away the body of someone who died from exposure, from hypothermia.”
He also demanded the area be fenced off securely. That has not occurred yet.
Generally agreeing with the demands were Archer Heights and Vittum Park contacted by the Greater Southwest News-Herald.
“We have a billionaire governor and a mayor with all kinds of power,” said Maya Oloroso. “They have the ability to get those people out of there and into safe conditions. It’s shameful that they don’t. They may have the brains to lead, but apparently they don’t have the heart.”
Kevin O’Connell said when his relatives visit from out of town and he wants to show them the Loop and its attractions, he avoids Cicero Avenue.
“It’s an embarrassment over there,” he said, “and though I-55 and Cicero is the quickest way for me to drive downtown, I’ll use the ramps at Pulaski or Harlem when I have friends or relatives in my car. I don’t need any more comments from them about how I need to move away from Chicago.”
Ceci Velasquez admitted that she has sometimes given cash or fast food to beggars at the Cicero Avenue overpass, “but it’s a tough situation. I want to help [the squatters], but I personally don’t have a place for them to live or a job to offer them. But I know that those resources are out there. Why these politicians aren’t helping, I don’t know. Wish I did.”
Pro Soccer Report: Red Stars will miss three big guns during World Cup qualifying
By Jeff Vorva Staff Writer Having world-class players on your team is a blessing. But during times like these, it can also be a curse. World-class players help NWSL teams win games. They also miss chunks of time during the season because of their commitments to playing in international competitions. For much of July, the…
Area Sports Roundup: Lightning strikes at Shepard
By Jeff Vorva Staff Writer There was a lot of rain and a little bit of thunder at the Illinois Lightning Track and Field Club’s open track meet, which was held at Shepard on June 25. The meet was open to everyone, from children as young as 4 (one 3-year-old also participated) to adults. More…
Mayoral race comes to Archer
Neighbors cheer as Lopez slams Lightfoot on crime By Tim Hadac Southwest Side civic and business leaders last Saturday got an early glimpse of the 2023 mayoral race, as 15th Ward Ald. Raymond Lopez made a campaign stop on Archer Avenue. Lopez was the guest of honor at a “meet and greet” held at the…
Early voting now open
Several Southwest Side sites available By Tim Hadac Although the next primary election is set for Tuesday, June 28, early voting has started. Voters may cast ballots at the Chicago Board of Elections’ “supersite” at 191 N. Clark. It is open now until election day, and its hours of operation are 9 a.m. to 6…
Bar Assoc. offers guidance on judge races
From staff reports For voters seeking guidance relating to the handful of judicial races on the ballot this month, the Chicago Bar Association now offers its “Judge Smart Pocket Guide” in English, Spanish and Polish. All versions are available at chicagobar.org/chicagobar/votejudges. The CBA provides judicial evaluations for candidates seeking to become a judge in Cook County,…
They have her back
Two days before Christmas 2021, Chicago Police Officer Jose “Joey” Huerta, a Garfield Ridge resident, died of COVID-19 complications. Months later, his daughter, Ariel, graduated from Kinzie School. In a show of solidarity, 23rd Ward Ald. Silvana Tabares (left), herself a Garfield Ridge resident, and several dozen police officers showed up at the school to…
Niego Real Estate salutes America again
Popular flag program underway By Tim Hadac Clearing and Garfield Ridge residents who want to decorate their blocks in red, white and blue this Independence Day are encouraged to contact Niego Real Estate and reserve a supply of U.S. flags at no charge. The popular program to promote patriotism and community pride is now in…
Villanueva hails new ‘mental health days’ law
From staff reports State Senator Celina Villanueva (D-11th) recently declared victory as Gov. JB Pritzker signed into law a bill that allows teachers to take mental health days. “Our teachers’ service to our students is ongoing, both inside and outside the classroom,” Villanueva said. “Now that our society has recognized the importance of mental health…
No ammo for revoked cardholders, Dart says
Wants legal loophole closed From staff reports Cook County Sheriff Thomas J. Dart recently urged lawmakers to close a loophole he said allows thousands of individuals with revoked gun permits to still buy ammunition. “A gun is only dangerous if it is loaded,” Dart said. “Right now, there are thousands of individuals in Cook County…
Offer rebates on new security devices
From staff reports City officials and others this week launched the Home and Business Protection Program, designed to protect people and property from crime. Through the program, anyone who lives in the city of Chicago, operates a business in the city, or owns or leases a vehicle registered to a primary address within the city…
CAPITOL RECAP: Pritzker to call special session after Roe v. Wade overturned
By CAPITOL NEWS ILLINOIS SPRINGFIELD – Gov. JB Pritzker will call a special session of the General Assembly in the coming weeks to focus on legislation to strengthen women’s access to abortion and other reproductive health services in Illinois. Pritzker made that announcement Friday, just hours after the U.S. Supreme Court released an opinion overturning…
6 Republicans vie to unseat Pritzker
By PETER HANCOCK & JERRY NOWICKI Capitol News Illinois [email protected] SPRINGFIELD – Republican voters in Illinois will choose from six candidates to challenge incumbent Democratic Gov. JB Pritzker in the upcoming June 28 primary. The field includes a conservative farmer and state lawmakers who is the recent polling frontrunner, the mayor of Illinois’ second largest…
Candidate interview: Alexi Giannoulias looking to reclaim statewide office
By JERRY NOWICKI Capitol News Illinois [email protected] Illinois voters might know Alexi Giannoulias as the state’s treasurer from 2007 to 2011, or they might know him as the Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate who lost to Republican Mark Kirk in 2010. He’s now looking to get back into public life as he runs for secretary…
Pritzker to call special session on reproductive rights
By PETER HANCOCK Capitol News Illinois [email protected] SPRINGFIELD – Gov. JB Pritzker will call a special session of the General Assembly in the coming weeks to focus on legislation to strengthen women’s access to abortion and other reproductive health services in Illinois. Pritzker made that announcement Friday, just hours after the U.S. Supreme Court released…
Candidate interview: Anna Valencia running for secretary of state
By JERRY NOWICKI Capitol News Illinois [email protected] This story is part of Capitol News Illinois’ coverage of the race for secretary of state ahead of the Tuesday, June 28 primary. We’re reaching out to the candidates this week to discuss their policy positions and plans for the office should they be elected. Chicago City Clerk…
Republicans see opening in secretary of state race
By PETER HANCOCK Capitol News Illinois [email protected] SPRINGFIELD – For the first time in nearly a quarter century, there is an open race for the office of Illinois secretary of state as incumbent Democrat Jesse White prepares to retire, and Republicans hope that will give them an opportunity to pick up a statewide elected office.…
Candidate interview: Secretary of state hopeful David Moore
By JERRY NOWICKI Capitol News Illinois [email protected] This story is part of Capitol News Illinois’ coverage of the race for secretary of state ahead of the Tuesday, June 28 primary. We’re reaching out to all of the candidates this week to discuss their policy positions and plans for the office should they be elected. Chicago…
Tom Cullerton sentenced to 1 year in prison for embezzlement
By PETER HANCOCK Capitol News Illinois [email protected] SPRINGFIELD – A federal judge in Chicago handed down a one-year prison sentence Tuesday for a former state senator who once chaired the Senate Labor Committee. Tom Cullerton, a Villa Park Democrat, pleaded guilty earlier this year to one count of embezzlement for receiving salary and benefits from…
CAPITOL RECAP: State Supreme Court again declines to rule on FOID Act
By CAPITOL NEWS ILLINOIS SPRINGFIELD – In a 4-3 decision with a blistering dissent from the Republican minority, the Illinois Supreme Court declined to rule on a question of whether Illinois Firearm Owners Identification Act is unconstitutional. It was the second time the case of the People v. Vivian Brown came before the court and…
State audit finds billions in unemployment fraud
By BETH HUNDSDORFER Capitol News Illinois [email protected] SPRINGFIELD – A state audit released Thursday found nearly $2 billion in federal money intended to help unemployed Illinoisans during the pandemic was lost to fraudulent claims in Illinois. The Illinois Department of Employment Security blamed “insufficient and flawed federal guidance” and a lack of controls on a…