A group seeking to operate a tent city for homeless people on a pedestrian mall in Uptown is embroiled in a legal battle with the city of Chicago over its plans.
The matter pitting Tent City Alternative to LSD Viaducts and Andy Thayer against the city’s administrative hearing and transportation departments is headed to federal court after the city filed to remove it from Cook County Circuit Court, doing so because the alleged rights violations fall under the U.S. Constitution.
Plaintiffs filed the original complaint on May 17 in response to an April 14 decision of the Chicago Department of Administrative Hearings on Tent City’s appeal of the city’s denial of its application for public assembly, which was to run from 10 a.m. April 14 to noon Nov. 22 at the pedestrian mall between North Kenmore and North Broadway avenues, where the pavement begins a half block south of West Wilson Avenue.
According to testimony from that hearing, Thayer said the tents were necessary to provide shelter to about 40 people who would be displaced by reconstruction of viaducts on Wilson and Lake Shore Drive. Public Way Permit Division Assistant Commissioner Michael Simon denied the application because the proposal did not include a public way use permit, though it called for erecting tents on the public right-of-way portion of the pedestrian mall. There would be no installation on sidewalks, but sidewalks would be obstructed as people congregate and move tents.
Also testifying at the appeal hearing was Alisa Sanchez-Rodriguez, deputy commissioner for homeless programs for the city’s Department of Family and Support Services. She gave information about the city’s programs for those without homes and said the city’s main concern for tent cities is sanitation, court documents said.
Tent City argued the city’s decision had no basis in its own public assembly ordinance, while the city contended using “the guise of a public assembly” was an attempt to circumvent public safety laws and said it offered a suitable alternative. Administrative Law Judge Frank Lombardo upheld the denial, though he noted he did not have jurisdiction to decide on the alleged violations of the First and Eighth amendments. He permitted those arguments “to make and preserve the record for possible appeal.”
Specifically, Thayer argued the city’s denial violated First Amendment rights to free speech and assembly, and said the city does not provide alternative means of shelter, thereby subjecting the homeless to the Eight Amendment’s prohibitions on cruel and unusual punishment.
Kelley A. Gandurski, senior counsel with the city’s Law Department, filed the notice for removal on June 7. She said federal jurisdiction is appropriate because resolution of the fundamental claims require adjudication of disputed questions involving federal rights. Because the final administrative order was incorporated into Tent City’s circuit court complaint, it is considered part of the pleading.
Representing Thayer and Tent City are Jeffrey Frank, Molly Armour and Uptown People’s Law Center, all of Chicago.