Almost all residents of the tent city previously occupying parts of Touhy Park have been housed and the park cleanup will soon begin.
Touhy Park Set to Reopen in Spring as Size of Tent Encampment Diminishes
The majority of the homeless population residing in Touhy Park have been housed after several months of work by local officials and the Chicago Park District is working on restoring the park to re-open sometime in March.
Starting out with just nine tents in May, there was a rapid rise in the park’s homeless population, with a peak of 41 tents in September, The Phoenix previously reported. The rise led to the closure of the Touhy Park fieldhouse and the relocation of park activities to nearby Pottawatomie Park. Now at least six tents and two residents remain in the park, according to Maria Hadden, the 49th ward alderwoman.
At time of publication, The Phoenix was only able to get in contact with one of the remaining residents of Touhy Park, who declined a request for comment.
Now with the bulk of the tents gone, the Chicago Park District plans to re-enforce a no-camping policy which was removed in the Summer of 2021 following the appearance of the tents, according to Hadden’s Feb. 10 newsletter.
Rapid re-housing events organized by Hadden and the Department of Family and Social Services (DFSS) were the main avenue for housing the park’s residents. 84 people were assigned housing over the course of three events since September, according to Hadden.
The rapid-rehousing program aims to quickly remove homeless residents from public spaces by offering to place them in permanent units, according to the DFSS. The City of Chicago pays landlords on behalf of the residents from various funds under the Expedited Housing Initiative, according to their website.
“One of the challenges sometimes is available housing, what they’re able to secure for the events is oftentimes not in our neighborhood,” Hadden said. “And sometimes that means it’s not really desirable for some folks who have work or family nearby, or who don’t have access to other transportation. Happy to get some closer North Side locations.”
The program does not require proof of employment, income, soberness or criminal record for placement, according to the DFSS.
“The housing event went well,” Hadden said regarding the third rapid-rehousing event. “There was a real push to try and get as many people matched with housing and housed, of course, before the cold weather. Thankfully, the storm element didn’t come, but of course the cold was very significant. So a lot of continued efforts just to try and get people into housing and out of the cold and out of the exposure.”
Leslie Perkins, Hadden’s Chief of Staff, said in a statement sent to The Phoenix efforts to house the last two remaining homeless residents in Touhy Park are ongoing by DFSS and Hadden.
“DFSS is still sending outreach workers to Touhy Park weekly to engage with the remaining two unhoused individuals and connect them to resources,” Perkins wrote. “Later this week, DFSS will host another routine cleaning of the park to remove abandoned tents.”
The Phoenix reached out to DFSS shortly before publication and were unable to receive a comment in time.
Hadden, the Park District and DFSS held a meeting in January which determined the expected March reopening date. Hadden said she also requested a budget from the Park District for the expected repairs to the park, which she hasn’t received but expects to see soon.
“We’re not talking about damage to the physical facility,” Hadden told The Phoenix. “We’re talking about wear and tear in the grassy areas, some trees and other vegetation and things that have been damaged – just stuff that needs some care and restoration.”
Irene Tostado, deputy director of communications for the Park District, said in a statement sent to The Phoenix the Park District is coordinating with its city partners on specifics for the reopening plan to go along with their spring programming. This year’s spring programs will be revealed Mar. 6, available for online registration Mar. 14 and run from Apr. 10-June 9, according to the Park district registration website.
“The reopening plan includes the restarting of park programming during our upcoming spring session,” Tostado wrote. “The proposed restoration of the park will include trimming trees and replanting grass.”
Hadden also thanked the local community for offering food and clothes and conversing with Touhy Park residents in her newsletter.
“So that folks who maybe aren’t super trusting of government processes, or maybe who’ve had bad experiences with social service efforts before, I feel like it’s been a good relationship builder,” Hadden said.
The Park District was criticized for its lack of communication with the community, The Phoenix previously reported. Both Jill Liska, president of the Touhy Park advisory council, and Hadden said they had difficulty communicating with the Park District about Touhy Park.
Both Liska and Hadden said they weren’t informed of some decisions, including the closure of the fieldhouse, beforehand. Since then, Park District coordination concerning Touhy Park has improved, according to Hadden.
“I feel like everyone’s a bit more proactive, more responsive and more coordinated,” Hadden said. “That’s been positive.”
Liska did not respond to requests for comment.
Touhy Park has become an issue in the upcoming aldermanic elections. Both candidates Belia Rodriguez and Bill Morton, who look to unseat Hadden, have listed the encampment in Touhy Park and housing its residents as top campaign issues, The Phoenix previously reported.
Featured image by Hunter Minné | The Phoenix