ROGERS PARK — Joseph Walker was dwelling in a tent in Touhy Park for the reason that summer time when, “by the grace of God,” he discovered an house this month.
The house, nevertheless, is “bare.” It doesn’t but have any furnishings or provides with which to prepare dinner and eat, Walker stated. So on Wednesdays, Walker heads over to Touhy Park, the place he is aware of he can have a heat meal served up by fellow Rogers Park neighbors.
“I’ve skilled a variety of kindness,” Walker stated between bites of chili and lasagna. “It’s totally cool that folks would do these acts. Something that anyone does, each little factor, I take into account a blessing.”
For over a yr, Rogers Park neighbors have joined collectively to supply a weekly meal of chili to the handfuls dwelling in tents inside Touhy Park, 7348 N. Paulina St.
The operation has grown over time, with the neighbors additionally providing contemporary produce, private hygiene merchandise, garments and hurt discount provides.
The thought for a weekly chili night time was sparked by Ahmed Chaudhry, who lives close to Touhy Park with spouse Dorian Ortega and their 10-month-old.
Chaudhry began final summer time, usually citing a pot of chili and a few serving provides to these within the park by himself. Spending extra time in Touhy Park, Chaudhry bought to know the opposite neighbors providing assist to the unhoused, together with these with the activist group Rogers Park Meals Not Bombs.
Chaudhry’s household and Meals Not Bombs then joined forces together with different neighbors to supply a weekly chili and useful resource distribution night time on the park. The housed and unhoused come collectively over a home-cooked meal.
“In the case of serving to folks, that is low hanging fruit,” Chaudhry stated. “I imply, we’re all neighbors.”
For almost two years, a tent metropolis has occupied a portion of Touhy Park.
The variety of folks dwelling within the park has ebbed and flowed. The encampment has persevered regardless of three “transferring occasions” held by town, together with one final week, which have discovered housing for 84 tent metropolis residents, officers stated. Touhy Park’s encampment overlaps with a rise in homelessness brought on partially by the pandemic.
The tent metropolis’s existence has been a significant level of competition amongst neighbors, resulting in fights on social media and dominating dialog on the town halls and conferences over a proposed homeless shelter in Rogers Park.
Because the encampment’s numbers swelled this summer time, the Chicago Park District relocated its summer time day camp from Touhy Park and ultimately closed the park’s subject home. These dwelling within the camp have additionally been the victims of a merciless prank after they have been served pretend eviction notices claiming they’d be moved to a swanky Downtown lodge.
The controversy surrounding the tent metropolis is what partially brought on Chaudhry to get entangled in serving to these dwelling within the park, he stated.
“I simply felt the humanity was misplaced,” stated Chaudhry, 34. “It irked me that there was a lot condescension.”
So Chaudhry determined to show a household custom right into a power for good. His spouse de él, Ortega, would make chili on a weekly foundation, usually tinkering with the recipe with Chaudhry appearing as a style tester.
The couple determined to begin making extra chili and sharing it with these within the park. They nonetheless have enjoyable with it, making an attempt completely different recipes and asking the park inhabitants for suggestions, they stated.
On Wednesday, Ortega ready a “three sisters chili” that makes use of elements often planted and harvested by Native People in honor of Indigenous Peoples Day, she stated.
“I’ve by no means cooked for thus many individuals, ever,” Ortega stated. “Simply doing one thing felt very pure to us. We dwell proper right here. How will you not do one thing?
At first, Chaudhry would come to the park alone, setting his giant pot of chili on a park bench. He then met the organizers with Rogers Park Meals Not Bombs, who provided him desk house at their weekly meals and useful resource distribution.
Meals Not Bombs, which organizes round problems with meals insecurity and social justice, has been offering mutual assist to the Touhy Park residents for so long as the encampment has existed, stated volunteer Gerardo Marciano.
The distribution occasions began sparingly, however because the camp grew, the group additionally sought to develop its assist efforts. These efforts have been aided by different neighbors seeking to assist out, Marciano stated.
“We noticed the necessity for folks to have extra common meals [assistance],” they stated. “We have seen an enormous enhance in folks serving to, bringing meals. Many simply do it on their very own.”
On Wednesday night time, Meals Not Bombs arrange a number of folding tables on the tent metropolis for the meal and useful resource distribution.
Chaudhry used one of many tables for his pot of chili and tenting stovetop. Meals Not Bombs introduced a tray of lasagna and one member introduced up loaves of home made bread. Additionally they introduced up bins of produce at hand out.
Meals Not Bombs additionally supplied hand heaters, hygiene merchandise like tooth brushes and hurt discount provides together with the opioid overdose antidote Narcan, hypodermic needles and and a hazardous waste basket to gather used needles that will in any other case litter the park.
Within the car parking zone simply north of Touhy Park, a household of Bosnian immigrants arrange exterior their SUV, a trunk filled with provides at hand out.
Sadil and Alma Mujanovic, who shaped the help group “Assist From USA to BIH (Boznia and Herzegovina)” often hand out blankets, jackets and pillows at Touhy Park on Wednesdays. The household comes by on weekends with meals. Devon Market is without doubt one of the household’s companions, offering donations that the household distributes.
“We need to train our youngsters that giving is definitely getting,” Alma Mujanovic stated. “You have got it in you? Then you definitely do it. We want we might do extra.”
United Church of Rogers Park, A Simply Harvest and St. Jerome’s Parish additionally coordinate meals and useful resource distributions at Touhy Park.
Chaudhry has posted about chili night time on Rogers Park Fb pages, which has led different neighbors to get entangled. A number of neighbors ship financial donations whereas one neighbor makes home made cornbread to go along with the chili, he stated.
A mean chili night time can serve about 30-50 folks. Some who come for the meal, like Walker, do not dwell within the park however might use the assistance regardless, neighbors stated.
Wednesday’s chili night time got here on an unusually balmy late November day. However winter is sort of right here. That has led to some urgency in addressing the scenario at Touhy Park.
Final week, town’s Division of Household and Help Providers performed a “speedy rehousing occasion” at Touhy Park. Twenty residents of the tent metropolis have been matched with housing, in response to Ald. Maria Hadden (forty ninth). Others have been delivered to an emergency shelter to briefly get out of the chilly.
Whereas 84 residents of the park have been matched with housing, new folks proceed to reach, Hadden stated in a video assertion from the housing occasion. Housing occasions will proceed to happen as metropolis officers grapple with how one can deal with the encampment and ultimately restore park programming, Hadden stated.
Whereas metropolis officers debate coverage on addressing homelessness, Rogers Park neighbors like Chaudhry will proceed to assist out in any manner they will.
“So long as individuals are right here, I will have chili for them,” he stated.
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