“It’s not a guarantee,” said Carol Boyd, president and founder of Humble Hearts, a charity that helps the homeless. Boyd goes out twice a week to distribute food to the homeless.
Since the policy was implemented in February, Boyd said she still hears of incidents of police harassment and the sanitation department’s removal of homeless property, especially what’s been unattended. She said it forces the homeless to move from place to place.
“They will take homeless people’s belongings even if the homeless people are there,” Boyd said. “I’ve had a few that have had their things taken away. Yes there’s a policy but some of the City of Chicago workers are plain assholes, and they throw it out anyway.”
Chicago's Department of Family Support Services, referred to Al Jazeera by Mayor Rahm Emanuel's press office as the relevant agency, did not return request for comment.
The new policy only applies to two areas in the city — Wacker Drive and under the Wilson Ave. bridge — both places where homeless individuals congregate. For now, that’s as far as the program goes.
Boyd said an additional problem with the system is that people new to homelessness don’t necessarily understand the new rules and can find themselves caught off guard without a chance to defend their property. A sweep can take place in the time it takes to stand in line for free food or use a restroom, she explained.
The city needs to do a better job of educating the homeless and providing them enough time to ensure their belongings are secure, advocates say.
Patricia Nix-Hodes, Chicago Coalition for the Homeless’ law project director, who fought for the February policy change, hesitated before calling it a success.
“We certainly think the policy is a step in right direction, with more notice. It’s a shift, and we have more work to do to monitor to be able to comment more broadly,” said Nix-Hodes.