Homeless Man Set on Fire Shows Shelter Closing Impacts - CCH FWD

Tom Boland (wgcp@earthlink.net)
Sat, 24 Jul 1999 20:40:33 -0700 (PDT)

FWD  July 15, 1999
     Press Release - Chicago Coalition for the Homeless


CHICAGO, July 15 /PRNewswire/ -- A homeless man set on fire on the city's
West Side illustrates the dangers faced by homeless people left with no
place to go when emergency shelters close for the summer.

The attack on Cleotha Mitchell in Palmer Square Park is the latest in a
series of attacks on homeless people. Last summer, skinheads attacked a
number of homeless men sleeping in a park in Uptown. In March of this year,
a homeless man sleeping under Lower Wacker Drive was attacked and beaten by
a group of young men.

``Homelessness is a problem all year, not just in the winter,'' said John
Donahue, executive director of the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless.
``There are more people out in the summer, increasing the risk of assault.
If people are going to be sleeping outside, they are going to be vulnerable
to hate crimes. Arresting the victims isn't the answer.''

Last April, Chicago lost 770 beds used by homeless men and women when
warming centers throughout the city were closed. Many homeless people are
unable to use what shelter beds are available because they are in a
different part of the city.

The threat of arrest is another common problem for homeless people. The
police often conduct sweeps of the city's parks and arrest homeless people
sleeping there.

``I was driving home past Clarendon Park last night and I saw about 10
police cars and 25 police officers surrounding about 25 homeless men and
women,'' said Donahue. ``I got out and asked the police what they were
doing and they said that they were giving out tickets for vagrancy. The
tickets had a court date, and the police said homeless individuals who
returned to the park would be arrested.''

Jose Landaverde, an organizer with the Eighth Day Center for Justice,
witnessed a similar scene in Calumet Park on the city's Southeast Side

``I saw 5 or 6 men arrested last night for sleeping in the park,'' said
Landaverde. ``The Southeast Side has less homeless shelters than any other
part of the city, so these people have nowhere else to go. The city should
be finding ways to help these people instead of harassing them.''

The threat of physical assault is not the only problem faced by homeless
people during the summer. Hot weather also puts people at risk of heat
stroke and dehydration, and can exacerbate chronic illnesses such as lung

The Chicago Coalition for the Homeless is calling on the City of Chicago to
open shelters in the summer as well as the winter and encourages police to
focus their efforts on finding the individuals who set fire to Cleotha
Mitchell rather than arresting homeless people.

SOURCE: Chicago Coalition for the Homeless

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