Statement regarding Samuel Harvard

Greetings Members and Friends,

Perhaps you have already heard of the tragic passing of a homeless man, who recently had been staying in the alley doorway behind First Unitarian. We are all deeply saddened by this loss of human life. Samuel Harvard had been a familiar face in the Hyde Park neighborhood for years, and many individuals and churches had attempted to assist him in finding shelter and refuge.

Shortly before last Christmas, Samuel began using the doorway behind the church as an overnight shelter. Staff discovered him and his possessions of three grocery store baskets, a tarp, and several blankets. He was nestled between two garbage bins and appeared in no way a threat to anyone entering or leaving the building.

As temperatures grew colder, staff became increasingly concerned about Samuel. Maintenance worker, Jon Rice, along with several others in the community, had monitored the health and safety of Samuel daily. Jon informed Michael Knowles of his concerns, and on at least one occasion invited him inside to warm up.

Discussion was held between Jon and Michael on whether the church basement would be a place to keep Samuel for the time being. Michael informed Jon that due to COVID-19, church clients, including the dance school, and their children and families, there were liability issues. Michael engaged the Chicago Homeless Prevention Center who said they would send teams to engage Samuel with offers of help.

On Wednesday, January 19, 2022, Jon informed Michael that Samuel was in the doorway and appeared unresponsive. Michael called contacts at the University Police station who very quickly had several units on site at the church. Their assessment was that Samuel was alive but “in bad shape.”  They called paramedics who took Samuel to University of Chicago Hospital where he later passed.

We all feel the weight of the loss. It glaringly points out the need for greater homeless services in Hyde Park, which we as members of the community are dedicated to being a part of.

Please feel free to share any concerns with the board or minister, and let’s be leaders in efforts to support the shelter and mental health of all.

 Margaret Gonwa,
Church President