Quick Hits – On the Elgin Homeless Problem – Part 1

This is one of those columns that grew organically from the kernel of truth you generally find at the core of any unfounded rumor. As is often the case, the pursuit of a non-truth led to the truth, and after talking with more than a dozen people, you look up two weeks later and wonder where the time went.

And it’s in that very conversational regard that I want to thank Elgin Police Chief Ana Lalley and Assistant City Manager Laura Valdez for taking 40 minutes out of their eminently busy day to finally put the exclamation mark on this fascinating journalistic quest.

Downtown Elgin

But before we get started, to quote a former disgraced President (not the current disgraced President), “Let me make this perfectly clear!” The word “homeless,” as used here, in no way refers to those individuals reeling from an unfortunate economic setback. No! Going forward, we’ll be discussing those individuals chronically on the streets as a result of mental illness or persistent addiction.

Put more simply, we’re talking about folks who are beyond any municipality’s help. No city has the resources to deal with the mentally ill on any scale, and though I like to believe redemption is always around the corner, if chronic addiction has led you to homelessness, there’s virtually no turning back.

At the outset of my fruitful conversation with Ms. Valdez and the Chief, they thought I was about to chastise Elgin for not doing enough. So, please let me also stipulate that I firmly believe The City in the Suburbs does too much for the homeless. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not issuing yet another conservative edict that utterly abrogates our duty to the  least of our brothers and sisters. It’s simply a matter of the law of diminishing returns. There’s always a point at which simply throwing more money at a problem makes no discernible difference.

Lastly, the twelve plus people I sought out in this regard included Elgin police officers, elected officials, business owners, and long-time residents. And their almost unanimous conclusion was, until Elgin Public House owner Greg Shannon addressed the City Council about this issue in July, the downtown Elgin homeless problem has gotten much worse since my halcyon Elgin radio show days.

And my sources cited a number of reasons for this startling shift, the most interesting of which is, unless they’re specifically acting out, the EPD has be instructed to leave the homeless and their belongings alone. And when those officers do write a nuisance ticket, those indigent folks simply tear it up and throw it back in their faces.

Some told tales of the Spring and Chicago parking garage turning into a homeless refuge with drunks sleeping in the stairwells and the persistent odor of urine and feces permeating the entire facility. The City did install a porta-potty on one garage level only to have the homeless defecate right next to it.

Others said Blue Box Café building owner Jerri McCue spent thousands of dollars repairing and rehabbing that building’s bathroom. It’s a homeless favorite because it’s set in the hallway of that unique indoor mini mall and they can come in through the back door unnoticed.

A couple of businesses owners told me that they and Public Works are beyond tired of cleaning up human excrement behind their buildings.

Some sources weren’t at all happy with the churches, and particularly those well-meaning Vineyard Church pastors who regularly feed the chronically homeless in Carleton Park while taking no further responsibility for their well-being.

The problem with those kinds of handouts is they incite the homeless into taking over the park every summer such that children and their parents completely avoid it. One business owner regaled me with a tale of being chased from the outskirts of Carleton Park as she tried to take photographs of the homeless occupants to bring to the City.

An elected official said that just one of the downtown homeless cost the city $500,000 in 911 emergency and other city services. Valdez disputed that total amount, but she did admit there was an individual who the City transported to the hospital 77 times in one year. And that ain’t cheap!

Taken at face value, these stories left me with a what-the-bleep kind of uneasy feeling. It seemed odd that City Hall would preside over an amazing downtown resurgence only to watch those gains slowly slip away through inaction. It made no sense.

Every human being on the planet deserves a basic level of respect, but that doesn’t mean the homeless, left to their own devices, should be ever be allowed to take a business district down with them. And that’s exactly what appeared to be happening.

What further troubles me is, much as it was throughout the absurd Lt. Chris Jensen saga, Elgin  City Hall seems gripped by an incomprehensible fear of some amorphous liberal force that will somehow rain down upon the city like the Holy Ghost if unduly aggravated.

 

On Monday, we’ll delve into the leadership vacuum that allowed this problem to persist and fester, and the steps Elgin is finally taking to restore balance to the downtown Force.

 

6 thoughts on “Quick Hits – On the Elgin Homeless Problem – Part 1

  1. Terrific article!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  2. Nice article, I’d like to see more on the topic.

  3. Wow.

    I feel for the merchants and citizens who have to put up with various kinds of unpleasantness from the proximity of the homeless, or just feel uncomfortable around them. I just wish there was a concerted, comprehensive effort to deal with it — something meaningful like actually providing these people a place to live. I’d gladly pay an increase in my taxes for something like that.

  4. Months ago I pointed out four possible Elgin locations for a second homeless shelter. That list is now down to three.

    #1. The former EMHC property at S. State and the Rt. 20 bridge, across from the Secretary of State building. Mayor Weakling had a vision a few years ago that all NFP’s in Elgin could move into the offices there. (Rent free, of course) The NFP’s showed no interest in that inconvenient plan and now it continues to sit empty with the exception of our police department using it for training. The city owns this building.

    #2. The D.C. Cook building at 850 N. Grove Ave. Already suited for privacy it could also house the Shared Harvest food store, also. The city would have to buy it, of course, and they certainly have the money to do so. Sure, the Muffy’s and Biff’s of NENA would scream, “Heavens, NO. NIMBY!” But since they seem to be sympathetic to issues like this and they are sucking up their Escape School at near-free rent, it would be a great choice.

    #3. YOUR house. On super cold or hot nights citizens could open up their basements like one resident did two winters ago. The city would inspect the home and charge a minimal permit fee with rules about access to fire doors, running water, etc.

    Some final conditions for any plan: Tent city is shut down and cleaned up. No trespassing. And, no more porta-potty experiments in downtown and the Carleton Rogers Park on N. Spring St. and E. Highland Ave. where there seems to be a large congregation there 24/7? That gets closed at dusk or 10 PM like all of Elgin’s other parks.

    Or, we could copy what most of our border towns and villages who have a much higher average income level and much different demographics do regarding the homeless. Nothing.

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