Skip to comments.City pulls plug on home in drawbridge
Posted on 12/14/2004 7:08:07 AM PST by MississippiMasterpiece
The Lake Shore Drive drawbridge that spans the Chicago River carries thousands of cars a day.
It's among the first structures to catch the vicious winter winds off the lake.
And it's one of the final barriers for tall-masted rivercraft seeking open water.
To suburban native Richard Dorsay, though, it's home.
Or it was until Sunday, when the 36-year-old homeless man was evicted by police and city officials -- who were stunned to find he'd been living for at least three years in a little wooden village built into the beams and girders of the bridge's intricate underbelly.
Dorsay and several of his "neighbors" were able to enter through a slim, almost unnoticeable opening in the median of the double-decker bridge's lower level. They then crawled to their lair, which was replete with creature comforts and nearly invisible to anybody on the river.
Dorsay tapped into the bridge's electricity to power a space heater, television, PlayStation video game and microwave.
If he had to bathe, he might slip upstairs to the usually vacant -- and sometimes unlocked -- bridgetender's office and wash off in a sink.
Authorities were amazed not only by his elaborate setup, but that he had managed to survive so long inside a bridge that, in the warmer months at least, regularly rises and lowers, shifting gears and tons of steel.
But to Dorsay, that was just part of the pace of his life below, which included watching Bears games and sharing a few beers with friends.
When the bells rang, signaling the arms of the bridge soon would ascend, he braced for a ride and cruised with the bridge as it slowly pitched him forward. If he was sitting down, he'd soon be standing.
"The first time it was scary,'' Dorsay said in an interview. "After that, it was almost like riding a Ferris wheel.''
Dorsay said curiosity initially brought him there. He spotted a hole in a girder in the midsection of the lower bridge. The bar covering it was broken, so he went in. He wasn't scared, just looking for a place where he would feel safe and secure, and his belongings wouldn't be stolen.
Until then, he'd been hauling his gear with him, finding shelter at various spots around the city.
He settled in below and carried in anything that could fit through the hole, which is roughly 36-by-12 inches.
Two other people also found refuge there, including a 23-year-old homeless man from Schaumburg.
To get to Dorsay's nest, he'd burrow about three feet down, through the hole, then shinny about five feet across a cement beam.
Several wooden huts with sleeping quarters were built. Dorsay's was a little cramped, but there's a platform that provides clearance of nearly six feet in places.
Building and decorating -- and the installation of Dorsay's 19-inch television -- was difficult. A rope was enlisted, as well as extra hands, to hoist larger items into the bridge through other openings, Dorsay said.
He used an extension cord to tap into electrical outlets in the bridge to power a VCR, microwave and television that got "OK'' reception. He said he occasionally slipped into the tower office if it was unlocked to use the sink to clean. "They were Commonwealth [Edison] and the water company all at once,'' said Dorsay.
He kept the TV volume low to train his ears on the sounds of the bridge or to hear whether someone was approaching.
He came to like Sunday nights, the quietest time of the week. He thought to himself, "If I keep my mouth shut, this will be perfect.''
Whenever he left the bridge, Dorsay popped his head out of the hole -- like a "turtle'' -- to see if traffic was clear. Once out, he'd panhandle or find items to sell at junkyards. He also collects a welfare check, he said.
He had found, he figured, a place that was safe, secure and peaceful. Then last week, his 23-year-old bridgemate got arrested.
Michael Scipior was arrested Thursday in Streamwood on suspicion of possession of a stolen motor vehicle and burglary.
While in custody, he allegedly gave police Dorsay's name, implicating him in criminal activity and telling them about the bridge. Scipior also allegedly said there was a gun inside a cooler in their lair, Chicago Police said.
Streamwood cops contacted Chicago, and Central District officers were called to investigate.
They surrounded the bridge last Thursday but had difficulty getting at the platform, police said. But they did arrest Dorsay, who happened to come to the bridge during the search.
Dorsay went to Streamwood for questioning but was released over the weekend without being charged. He was brought to the Central District station, where he was charged Saturday with criminal trespass to property, a misdemeanor.
At 5 a.m. Sunday, the city raised the bridge, shutting down traffic for 40 minutes, to allow tactical officers to search for the gun. No weapon was found, and Dorsay's home was cleared out, with more cleanup to continue today.
Dorsay's nest was well-hidden, with blankets camouflaging the huts so they would be difficult to spot from the water.
Tom Powers, a deputy commissioner for the Chicago Department of Transportation, was on the scene Sunday. There have been other squatters inside the city's bridges before, Powers said, but he was surprised by the extent of Dorsay's furnishings.
"I've never seen this," he said. "Usually it's somebody trying to get warm for the night.''
The discovery likely will lead to a re-evaluation of the current security sweeps that are done weekly, Powers said. All the girders might also be checked to make sure any holes are barred.
Sunday morning, hours after authorities were finished inside the bridge, Dorsay was ready to leave the Central District. He appeared tired, with bags under his eyes and a thick overgrown beard.
As he ate pieces of pizza police gave him and laced up Fila gym shoes given to him by a commander there, Dorsay talked about life inside the bridge and where he's going now. The Hinsdale Central High School graduate, who has dyslexia and a history of emotional problems, said he's long struggled against authority and rules.
His ability to create a home in a city bridge was instinctual.
"You've got to be kind of agile," he said. "You can't be a idiot. . . . It doesn't take long to figure out what you need to do. How long has mankind lived in caves?"
As Dorsay described this, his father arrived to take him to his Burr Ridge home. "I've always hoped that he would find a place and he would seek employment,'' Gary Dorsay said. "He is strong enough and bright enough to do something.''
How the "homeless" in America live - middle class to most of the world...
I guess this confirms what Rush Limbaugh always says about our poor in this country - even the homeless have a PlayStation and microwave!
Let's frigging hope so.
What a ride ping!
Hinsdale and Burr Ridge are two of the highest income communities in the Chicago area. They are just over the border in Du Page county. This 'poor' guy went to one the best high schools in Illinois. Who'd a thunk.
Virtually all of the homeless in my town congregate in areas around dowtown or around the intersate shopping areas (best intersections for panhandling)
One guy has separated from the bunch and took up residence under an overpass in my suburban part of town. He lives in the low crime, higher income zip code and rides the bus to his "intersection" in the other part of town. He must have a crash pad elsewhere because sometimes he's gone for 2-3 days at a time.
That's the thing. Wouldn't it be easier to hold down a day job?
I SO need pics of this bridge lair.
Bet it gets a little smoky when a Laker steams through.
We had better all start looking for our own bridges to squat under after this tyrant and his rubber stamp "City Council" raises taxes next year. I never thought that I would agree with Dorothy "the Hat" Tillman about anything, but she was right for being one of the few to vote against it. Probably for the wrong reasons though, like there not being enough wealth redistribution for her tastes.
I think sometimes we forget how hard life can get. I feel very sorry for the men living under the bridge. Partly because Michael Scipior, the one who got arrested and told the cops about the place is my brother, partly because the two mentioned have so much potential and it is wasted.
Sometimes it is just hard to believe that my own brother ended up in the situation he is in. We were both adopted by different families and Mike was just never the same after that. Even as a kid he was very troublesome. He had all the care he needed from professionals, but I guess that just goes to show that psychiatric help only works on those who want it.
I can only imagine how hard of a life it is for those two.
Tough luck, that. Prayers for your brother.
14 posted on 01/14/2005 7:19:23 PM EST by gv23
How is it that your born on date is tomorrow?
As the old saying goes, "Three men can keep a secret if two of them are dead."
During my time living under unconventional circumstances, I learned you don't have room mates and you keep your mouth shut. Otherwise you will often find yourself in more dire straits than you started in.
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