food trucks

A Different Food Truck War: Alderman Versus Salvation Army in Uptown

Capt. Nancy Powers

Capt. Nancy Powers

Alderman James Cappleman has been fighting Uptown's reputation as the part of the city where the poor, homeless and dysfunctional wash up. Well, that's one way of putting it. Another, in Chicago, is that he's looking to clear out the people who keep Uptown from being a newly revitalized hot spot with high property values by, for instance, trying to close the last few SRO hotels. Captain Nancy Powers oversees the Salvation Army homeless outreach trucks in Uptown which provide food and other services to the homeless as part of their Christian mission. That's one way of putting it; Alderman Cappleman puts it this way:

Persistent chronic homelessness that was centralized in the area near where the Salvation Army Mobile Food Truck provided services.

Where the Salvation Army saw a mission, Cappleman saw a cause of the problem. And when the Sun-Times' Mark Brown reported on the issue Thursday, it blew up in a big way... so far, mostly in the alderman's face.

Brown's initial piece framed the issue in a way that was plainly sympathetic to the Salvation Army's side:

Ald. James Cappleman (46th) informed the Salvation Army on Friday that it is no longer welcome to feed the poor in Uptown from its homeless outreach trucks.
Cappleman gave the social service agency one month to find a new North Side location — outside his ward — before ceasing operations, said Capt. Nancy Powers, who oversees the Salvation Army’s homeless program in Chicago.
“He decided he felt the unit was pulling homeless into the area, and he does not want us to feed them,” Powers told me.

To Brown, Cappleman seemed to regard the homeless as not unlike the pigeons he has also tried to eradicate in his ward. Cappleman, clearly stung by the pushback, issued his own statement on Sunday:

When I raised concerns about chronic issues under the viaduct, they wouldn’t provide information that their efforts had a noticeable impact. When I pointed to other social services in the ward that have provided numbers and outcomes of their success, the Salvation Army staff were still not able to respond. After years of the mobile food truck taking one approach without being able to document success, I asked if they could explore other options and different approaches to help get people on the streets into shelter. At this point, they stormed out of my office and said they would take their services where they were wanted. I tried to work with them, but they refused.

Brown has a followup piece today on public reaction, which has mostly been supportive of the Salvation Army. But the issue is a textbook example of something that has widely been alleged about the social welfare state— that it can come to view private charity and volunteerism as unwanted competition for the state's management of the at-need population. As Brown puts it:

[Cappleman] goes on at some length about how he has been trying to get Salvation Army to work with him on “new approaches” to assist the chronically homeless and to show him some statistics to prove that its program truly helps get the homeless into permanent housing.

More than a disagreement over methods, this is a clash of worldviews between a group with a burning faith in technocratic solutions and one that sees the intractability of human problems rationally, as something you will always have with you. For now, at least, public sentiment seems to be running in favor of the Salvation Army continuing to do its work every night. Check back in ten years to see if the homeless are gone from Uptown— and a chic new shopping and dining district has driven them elsewhere, to a chorus of rising property values.

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