Provided by the City of Evanston
The City of Evanston is aware of a physical altercation that took place in the area of Fountain Square on Monday afternoon, Feb. 13, involving staff of Streetplus, a City of Evanston maintenance vendor.
The city has reviewed and made public security camera footage from this incident, which shows Streetplus staff arriving at Fountain Square and observing an individual allegedly urinating on a utility box. Streetplus staff made verbal contact with the individual, which then escalated into a physical altercation.
The actions captured in the footage of this incident are disturbing and entirely unacceptable, and are not in line with the city’s values. The city has immediately suspended the Streetplus program pending further investigation of this incident.
Related RoundTable story from Sept. 13, 2022: City to pay $508,000 for cleaning, maintenance to business areas
Please look into the “Homeless Exclusion Districts” paper published by Berkeley law as well and how companies like street plus work in tandem w cities and BIDS/SSAs. Looking at past contracts of StreetPlus they typically contain language related to policing the homeless and essentially criminalizing poverty. The Berkeley law study even found that social services offered by companies like street plus are perceived as another layer of harassment by the homeless. Evanston’s commercial interests see the homeless population as detracting from downtown Evanston being a thriving retail neighborhood when in actuality it’s been mismanaged and things like high rents and inability to compete with the retail offerings of Old Orchard and everything the city of Chicago offers has made it difficult to maintain brick and mortar spaces in the downtown area. I feel like the homeless population has been stigmatized and administration has been trying to find a way to make most of the homeless people disappear (especially in the downtown area). For the alderman to be surprised that something like this happened is suspicious. Past contracts for StreetPlus that have leaked always mention policing the homeless, and it’s part of the company’s philosophy that visible poverty is dangerous to a city’s commerce. When you look up job reviews of StreetPlus on recruiting websites they repeatedly refer to policing the homeless as part of their duties. Homeless folks need resources, but Evanston has a part of its administration that suggests harassment until they simply go elsewhere is the correct approach.
This is not about the lack of restrooms in downtown Evanston. Even if a man needs to urinate and no restroom is readily available, he will find an alley or other secluded space in which to relieve himself. No, urinating on a electrical utility box in Fountain Square suggests an individual who was impaired, unbalanced mentally, socially, or all of the above. The City of Evanston can and should treat everyone decently. It should also expect and require appropiate behavior from all who live, work, or travel through Evanston.
Also, why not warn the workers, providing them with training in dealing with such situations. It seems an extreme response to take away the livelihood of these individuals. Especially, as the tape apparently shows them attempting to resove the issues. They need tools to deal with troubled individuals, not termination.
First, to the maintenance crew for calling out someone urinating on Fountain Square — Thank you! You did the right thing!
As this incident progresses from there, the urinator (the guy in the dark jacket and green shirt) is repeatedly aggressive towards this crew, violently pushing away a bystander or friend who tried to calm him, to the point of knocking that person down. And then the urinator makes a violent run at the clean-up crew. The crew merely defend themselves from an aggressor. To criticize them is quite literally to blame the victims for refusing to be victimized.
I doubt there are a lot of street clean-up workers out there practiced in de-escalation techniques, with perfect control of their emotions in the face of aggressive misbehavior. If the city wants to use this as a teaching moment, giving them some de-escalation training, great!
Firing them sends absolutely the wrong message — “Do not take your work seriously. If someone is urinating in public, don’t confront them, since they may respond by attacking you, in which case you might need to defend yourself from them, and we can’t have that.”
That amounts to ceding the public square, quite literally, to violent jerks. I think that’s wrong. Disturbingly wrong.
Not at all condoning the Clean Crew, BUT what is the city going to do to stop quality of life crimes like urinating on public property? Or the uptick in aggressive panhandling?
The only thing we ever hear are hare brained schemes from Devon Reid to make it easier to go nude on the beach or throw rocks at property. Actual problems are not being addressed.
The clean crew shouldn’t have to be the ones to enforce basic public cleanliness laws in a vigilante manner.
So, I’m just going to step in here and say that Council Member Devon Reid’s proposal to add equitable language to Evanston’s ordinance has been characterized by some as a push for nude beaches and crazy. But there is no factual basis for those claims. In actuality the proposal was to bring Evanston into compliance with the law by removing gendered language. It’s something that has happened in other large cities and it was a preventative measure to make sure the city is safe from law suits. For anyone who took the time to read the proposal or our coverage of it, it was a reasonable and even small tweak to language that was recommended after review by the Equity and Empowerment Commission and the Human Services Committee and then passed by the City Council – none of whom thought it was out of whack. Those are the facts of that ordinance change and it would be nice if people didn’t offhandedly perpetuate false characterizations. Here are some of our stories: https://evanstonroundtable.com/2022/11/09/city-may-remove-ban-on-exposed-female-breasts/ , https://evanstonroundtable.com/2022/10/20/equity-and-empowerment-tackles-gender-equity-and-affordable-housing/ https://evanstonroundtable.com/2022/09/28/evanston-public-nudity-rules-stricter-less-inclusive-than-many-nearby-communities/
How many public restrooms are in the City of Evanston? We need them.
Roundtable’s previous reporting on the subject indicated the city declined to buy the additional $125,000 social services “package” from this vendor. This sure seems like an old-school shakedown, “buy the social services next time or we’ll beat up your homeless residents…”
Wait. What about the guy who URINATED in public? From what I could see, the cleaners confronted him about what he just did and HE got belligerent. Do we allow people to urinate in public these days? Granted, not worth a fight but they are CLEANERS. Had they called the police, probably the right thing to do, the police wouldn’t get there in time. And what would they d anyway?
In watching this video *repeatedly*, I cannot fault the Streetplus staff for their actions. From what I see, they initially *did* try to peacefully de – escalate, and when the “urinator” reacted violently they were simply trying to defend themselves. IMO Streetplus were simply doing their job. I’d give them a commendation and a bonus for “a job well done”. Handling these potentially dangerous incidents can be fraught – would any of us had done any “better”? What if there were a weapon involved?
I used to greatly enjoy Fountain Square, especially when working remotely. I’d go in late afternoon/early evening and sit at a table, read, have a bite to eat and people watch – it’s a dandy “urban space”. Last Spring during the first three times I visited, I was hassled by panhandlers, etc. so I decided not to return, as it was too stressful to tolerate their disruptive behaviors. So, another lovely space that I can no longer enjoy (the Merrick Rose Garden is now another with the same issues). Also, I no longer frequent Potbelly, TEAlicious BUBBLE, Aloha Poke, and other adjacent Fountain Square businesses as I did. I spent about $150.00 per month at these places – not a huge amount, but it adds up, and I know others who no longer frequent Fountain Square for the same reason. When is our Evanston city government going to wake up and realize that you *cannot* have “thriving spaces” for our citizenry without fostering basic civic social order and safety? This is “Governing Responsibly 101”…
Gregory Morrow – Evanston 4th Ward resident
Yes, of course the cleaning crew was wrong to confront, let alone get physical with this individual. But let’s look at the real problem here: it’s inadequate public restrooms, and this problem exists all across our country.
(https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/06/opinion/sunday/public-toilets-united-states.html). Can we please fix the real problem?
I’m not sure if this particular public urinator would have used a public restroom if there had been one nearby. He could have found a more discreet location not that far away. Instead he chose a place out in the open.
Sadly, we had an opportunity to hire organizations closer to Evanston to do this work and have local oversight for far less the cost. They took the highest bid.
This is very sad this happened. We need to reevaluate and rethink what company we can trust to do better, no matter who they interact with. Unacceptable.
I agree. The response by the Street Plus team was unacceptable.
Suspending the street cleaning crew still leaves the public health problem of street urination and defication downtown, not to mention the unattended overflowing trash bins or just trash discarded everywhere.
Street Plus was making a positive difference. Perhaps this crew was tired of cleaning up urine and feces without seeing any city intervention in this behavior and lost it. That reason is not an excuse for their reaction. But idea the city can put out a street cleaning crew to deal with our severe impaired neighbors is not an excuse, either.
I’m proud that Evanston is a welcoming city. But we should also be a helping city. Downtown residents have been asking for help for those attracted here with addiction and mental health problems for years. The Margarita may be necessary but it is clearly insufficient. You might imagine how frustrating it is for downtown residents who face another summer of challenge to listen to AP&W and City Council spend a third to a half of their meetings on oversight of a garden in a vacant city property in the 7th ward. We need a plan for downtown, and those attracted to it, now.
The Clean Team was definitely making a positive difference. The streets and sidewalks were much cleaner. Give them some help so they can deal with these kinds of situations.
Susan Kelly wrote:
“But the idea the city can put out a street cleaning crew to deal with our severe impaired neighbors is not an excuse, either…”
Correct! Dealing with these situations on the street, and “on the fly” is *extremely* tough **at best**. Years ago I did street outreach in Chicago’s Uptown, part of my job at the homeless services agency Streetwise. Staff had extensive training in “de – escalation” techniques; part of that was a requirement to obtain certifications in Youth and Adult Mental Health First Aid, which we received from Trilogy, C4 and Thresholds; this is the same basic training that the Chicago Police Department require of their officers/staff…
To say that every single day and every single “encounter” was a challenge is an *understatement* – “Is the person we are dealing with at all stable… might they have weapons… are they high… will they be violent?” After the second one of our homeless clients was shot dead on a sunny Friday July afternoon (a “collateral” of gang crossfire), I moved on, as I seriously did not know if I would make it home alive at the end of a day. All the “de – escalation” classroom training in the world can be for naught, as every situation differs – you are out in the very fraught “real world”, where situations can deteriorate in a snap. At times I thought we should have had firearms training and weapons when on the rough streets of Uptown…
We were middle – class college grads with extensive training. I doubt that these Streetplus staff have these nice advantages. What are they paid – minimum wage? What is the solution – more social workers, more police, enhanced service interventions on the street? Frankly, I don’t know anymore…
Gregory Morrow – Evanston 4th Ward resident
Both Mayor Biss and the 4th ward alderman want to make Evanston a welcoming place for all They believe it is a question of our values. So they both support the Margarita Inn Now we have Greenwood Care, Albany Care and The Margarita Inn We are in effect housing a good deal of Cook County’s mentally I’ll and addicted It’s is not unusual to have one of the residents urinating at Fountain square. Trying to dress up downtown by hiring a street cleaning crew obviously isn’t the solution