Opinion

As homeless numbers rise in Chicago, CTA is a place of refuge | Transit Diaries

The Transit Diaries | How to approach a homeless person on your CTA commute.

Whether you're riding the train and seeing it yourself, or reading commentary on social media, it would seem that more of our city's homeless are taking refuge on the CTA. In addition to the cold weather, it may be because Chicago's homeless population is on the rise, according to advocates. 

“We generally do see more people seek shelter on the CTA during the winter months due to the 24/7 nature of some of our rail lines,” CTA spokesman Jeff Tolman said.

Beginning in December, CTA has additional personnel on the Red and Blue lines to help identify the individuals who may be riding the trains in a continuous loop. At the end of the route, those people are asked to exit the vehicle and pay a fare if they want to continue riding.

“We do partner with outreach organizations and work with experts from social service agencies to assist the people seeking shelter in our system and identifying those who may need help with a mental illness,” Tolman said.

Of the 6,786 homeless people identified in the 2015 Chicago homeless point-in-time count, 30 percent or 2,055 were residing in a place not meant for sleeping, such as a park, street, abandoned building or public transportation. That's up from 15 percent so-called "unsheltered" in 2014.

A lack of affordable housing or shelter space coupled with the temperate winter weather could be what’s driving these numbers up. But more than that, public transit can oftentimes offer temporary shelter, warmth, safety or freedom for someone with no other place to call home. 

I took to social media to find the recent reactions others have had to homeless people on the CTA, and I found many that were outright mean but others just asking the CTA for guidance on the issue.

From the sounds of things on social media, some may have the impulse to act out of anger or disgust when they, for example, see someone who appears to be homeless sprawled out sleeping on a stretch of train seats. But homeless advocates and the CTA suggest that it's best to leave the person be. If you need to complain, notify the operator. Have the professionals step in. 

“I think that everyone wants to be respected. A person may not intentionally be trying to take up a lot of space—those belongings might just be all they have,” said Paul Mireles, program director for Thresholds Mobile Assessment Unit. “I guess my advice is to try and be kind and have some patience.”

... Something I think we all could benefit from having a little more of in our day-to-day lives.

"The Transit Diaries" runs online and in RedEye's print edition every Tuesday on Page 4. If you have a story you'd like to share, email us at redeye@redeyechicago.com with "Transit Diaries" in the subject line.

@riannecoale  |  rcoale@redeyechicago.com

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