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Alderman says impoverished men used as pawns to save cubicle hotels

Ald. James Cappleman (46th) |  Brian Jackson~Sun-Times file photo

Ald. James Cappleman (46th) | Brian Jackson~Sun-Times file photo

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Updated: March 28, 2013 6:43AM

Uptown Ald. James Cappleman (46th) on Tuesday accused the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless of using impoverished men — many of whom struggle with alcohol and drug addictions — as pawns in a last-ditch effort to save a pair of cubicle hotels left over from Chicago’s “Skid Row” era.

“These groups that say they are advocates for those living in extreme poverty are making the presumption that it’s this or the streets when that’s simply not true. They’re using these men and scaring them into believing it’s their only alternative,” said Cappleman, whose North Side ward includes the Wilson Club Men’s Hotel, 1224 W. Wilson.

“Many of them are very vulnerable. Some of them are at high-risk for alcohol and drug relapse and this is just sending them over the edge. This is not being an advocate. As a licensed clinical social worker who started out my practice working with men who were HIV-positive, had alcohol and drug addictions, had mental illness and who were homeless, I find this action appalling and completely unethical.”

Cappleman said he can’t believe the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless would defend the deplorable living conditions in cubicle hotels.

“If we had a hearing and residents heard that we allowed dog cages to be in rooms with no air-conditioning and we had no problem with that, they would rise up and be furious and say this kind of mistreatment of dogs is not to be tolerated,” the alderman said.

“Same situation here: men in cages with no windows and no air-conditioning. There are groups saying they’re advocating for this? It makes no sense.”

Ed Shurna, executive director of the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, acknowledged that cubicle hotels best known for the chicken wire ceilings above narrow “sleeping stalls” without windows are “not great.”

But Shurna said there’s a reason why people end up living there for as long as 15 years.

“If the alderman would advocate for affordable housing in the same price range as these in his ward and in wards across the city, we would support that 150 percent but that housing doesn’t exist and it takes years to create,” Shurna said.

“Without adequate housing, this is the best alternative in a very bad situation. In no way do we want people to live in awful conditions. [But] we also don’t want them to live on the street, on Lower Wacker or in overcrowded shelters. We need affordable housing for people on very limited means.”

The Chicago Sun-Times reported last month that Cappleman and downtown Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) want to force Chicago’s last two cubicle hotels to either shut down or dramatically improve living conditions they called, “not fit for human beings.”

Reilly’s newly re-drawn ward is literally on the border of the Ewing Annex Hotel, 422-26 S. Clark.

With rents as low as $15-a-day, $90-a-week and $300-a-month, cubicle hotels have one toilet for every 20 occupants, compared to one for every 10 occupants of a single-room-occupancy (SRO) building.

Over the last week, Chicago Sun-Times columnist Mark Brown has written a pair of columns about his visit to the Wilson Club at the request of the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless.

Brown interviewed residents, many of whom are veterans. Some recently lost their jobs and found themselves living on the streets. Others struggled with addictions or had criminal records.

Brown argued that, if cubicle hotels are forced to close, it would be a “virtually certainty that a portion will end up homeless and that some will die on the street some future winter night.”

As Tyron Boulware, a 55-year-old Army veteran and Wilson Club resident warned Brown, “They’re going to put a bunch of people on the street for no reason at all…A lot won’t have no place to go.”

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