‘Homeless Not Helpless!’ Chicago Union of the Homeless protest demands housing authority open unites to homeless

The Chicago Union of the Homeless demands housing for homeless people. (Rodricka Taylor/MEDILL)

By Rodricka Taylor
Medill Reports

The Chicago Union of the Homeless protested on Feb. 23 in front of the Chicago Housing Authority headquarters on Van Buren Street. Union members are supporters demanding to be recognized as a legitimate representative of the homeless population and called for the housing authority to open up all empty units and give them to homeless people.


About 50 people gathered at 60 E. Van Buren on Feb. 23 at Chicago Housing Authority headquarters to support the Chicago Union of the Homeless. They are demanding the housing authority use vacant units to house those who are homeless. (Rodricka Taylor/MEDILL)

“Every day, I have no peace because I’m houseless. Because we’re living in a country that says united, and it is no way united because they’re walking past the people that need them the most!” says Bonnie Contreras, interim president of the Chicago Union of the Homeless. “Ya’ll care about us once a year, Thanksgiving and Christmas. We need to eat just like you guys do every day! We’re tired of being homeless! We’re tired of being out here!” (Rodricka Taylor/MEDILL)

The Chicago Freedom Ensemble plays music before the protest event in front of the Chicago Housing Authority headquarters. (Rodricka Taylor/MEDILL)

Bruce Parry, a veteran, holds a petition for people to sign in solidarity for the Chicago Union of the Homeless to be recognized as a legitimate representative of the homeless. (Rodricka Taylor/MEDILL)

Kizzy Young, Chicago Union of the Housing executive board member, reminded people that the mayor’s election is coming up in 2023. She called out to Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Tracey Scott, the Chicago Housing Authority CEO, saying the Chicago Union of the Homeless wants to be a part of the mayor’s programs to address homelessness. “We want to sit at the table.” Young was a mother of seven children when she was homeless. (Rodricka Taylor/MEDILL)

Protestor’s sign“Homeless Not Helpless” pays homage to the message of the Chicago Union of the Homeless. (Rodricka Taylor/MEDILL)

Alderman Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th Ward) recognized the Chicago Union of the Homeless for their actions.“The levels of dehumanization that we could reach are despicable, and we will not stand for that!” says Lopez about the Chicago Housing Authority. He adds how more than 280 million dollars of COVID-19 relief funding were given to the Chicago Police Department when there is a need for emergency housing. “We are asking every single one of people in the city of Chicago to take action because there are so many broken promises that were made and the communities are suffering.” (Rodricka Taylor/MEDILL)

A protestor chants, “Housing is a human right. We won’t go without a fight,” in agreement with speakers who recite demands for the homeless people’s needs.“Give us a home or leave us alone!” (Rodricka Taylor/MEDILL)

“Replace our stuff,” says Johnny Bryant, Chicago Union of the Homeless interim secretary. He calls out Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd Ward) on behalf of those who lost birth certificates, clothes, IDs, and money at 53rd and Federal Boulevard. Bryant was among those who lost everything after Dowell announced a cleaning, or sweep, of the viaduct’s encampment in early February, with only two days’ notice. The residents were able to stay at hotels during the sweep, thanks to caring individuals in Chicago who provided the shelter. But while encampment residents were away, city streets and sanitation workers removed all their belongings, Bryant said. (Rodricka Taylor/MEDILL)

Rabbi Brant Rosen of the housing union’s Faith Leaders Committee offers a prayer. The same prayer was read in December when he partook in a memorial service sponsored by the Chicago Union of the Homeless for those who were unhoused and perished. (Rodricka Taylor/MEDILL)

On the front headboard on the coffin are the names of homeless people who have died. (Rodricka Taylor/MEDILL)

The coffin’s back headboard offers flyers and information about the memorial to the death of homeless Chicagoan Wayne Warren. (Rodricka Taylor/MEDILL)

“We have constituents from Hollywood Beach all the way to 63rd,” says Ricardo Vera, one of the vice presidents of the Chicago Union for the Homeless.“ We know where we’re at, and we know what their needs are.” (Rodricka Taylor/MEDILL)

“Only to God the Homeless” is marked on the coffin display before protestors placed the headboard covering. The Chicago Union of the Homeless and protestors marched twice around the block of the Chicago Housing Authority headquarters in memory of Wayne Warren and in solidarity with those who perished in the streets. (Rodricka Taylor/MEDILL)


Rodricka Taylor is a video and broadcast reporter at Medill. You can follow her on Twitter @Rodricka_Taylor