“How long has there been tent city in Prairie Park?” asked a supporter of Hope Haven after the City Council voted to receive and file the agency’s request for a zoning change for expansion of its homeless facility.
“There’s been one there for as far back as the 70s,” Gracie and I responded.Disbelief clouded the eyes of the return stare.
After the meeting we drove over to The Junction Eating Place. We ran into a DeKalb lifer. We started to tell him about people at the meeting, like 6th ward alderman Dave Baker, who just recently learned of the tent city.
“There’s been one back there since I was born,” he said. “And I’m 58.”
In all likelihood there has been a tent city, of sorts, in Hobo Park which begat Peoples Park which begat Hueber Park which begat Prairie Park since round about 1854 when the railroad was built through town.
The hobos were migrant workers chasing jobs or their dreams. A list of former hobos would include Louis L’Amour, the Western author; James Michener, author, world traveler, historian; Jack London, famous author and noted Socialist; Winthrop Rockefeller, wealthy industrialist, when he was a young man; Nels Anderson, author and songwriter; William O. Douglas, Supreme Court Justice; Clark Gable, actor; Dr. George Milburn, college professor and author; Melvin Belli, attorney; Vachel Lindsay, poet; George Orwell, author of “1984” and “Animal Farm”; and Steve McQueen, actor. They rode the trains from one job or dream to another.
The hobos were often accompanied or followed by a mixture of vagabonds and bums of those who worked hard at not working by begging, conning or stealing their way from worn out destinations and those who were simply down on their luck with no where else to go. The hobo jungles were always near jobs and DeKalb from its agricultural to barb wire to wire and cable to NIU history has always had jobs — and when there weren’t jobs — there were plenty of people down on their luck.
From a random blog found Googling “DeKalb, IL” and “hobo camp:”
While living in DeKalb, Illinois, I felt that the town as a whole was my home, but never felt at home in the places I lived. Possibly, this was due to the spirit of busy-bodies invading my space, but I can remember that species being present only when I was at the new Life Center, a kind of off-campus dormitory run by people who called themselves Christians. I felt best when sleeping in the park, “Peoples Park”, at the hobo camp of an ex-Marine machine-gunner named Robbie. Robbie lived on garbage – – many have commented on how nicely one can live off what this society discards – – and found drinking buddies often enough that he was usually drunk. I felt comfortable with Robbie sleeping nearby.
Prairie Park is one of Gracie’s favorite bike riding spots. She’s prone to taking a little extra food, toiletries, etc. with her because in recent times she was often running into couples with children tenting out in those woods.
I’ve never been real comfortable with her doing that because I’ve known some of the chronic bums that can be out there. But she listens intently to what I have to say and does what she wants anyways.
We were glad that Lisa Sharp and Lesly Wicks put together the presentation they did for last night’s city council meeting. The public was well served by hearing the facts, trends and strategies for coping with homelessness in DeKalb.
Because it is shocking to learn there are so many people out there without a roof over their head. And then it makes perfect sense why it is more economically feasible, and downright neighborly, to provide shelter… and hope.
The DeKalb City Council voted 3-3 (Gallagher, Baker and Kammes against; Simpson, Teresinski and Verbic for) to receive and file Hope Haven’s expansion proposal. Mayor Kris Povlsen broke the tie with a vote in favor of the proposal. The proposal now moves to a Second Reading.
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