Colder weather brings more home­less to CTA

Red Eye Chicago - - The Chatter - Rianne Coale

With cold weather and snow in the fore­cast this win­ter, you may no­tice an in­crease in the num­ber of home­less in­di­vid­u­als seek­ing shel­ter on your CTA com­mute. But as we’ve seen in the past, that’s a com­mon oc­cur­rence this time of year.

“In­di­vid­u­als who are home­less tend to use the 24/7 na­ture of our sys­tem to take shel­ter dur­ing the win­ter months,” CTA spokesman Jeff Tol­man said.

And although com­muters are likely to ob­serve an uptick in the city’s home­less on buses or trains, the an­nual Chicago home­less pointin-time count tells a dif­fer­ent story—city­wide home­less­ness is down 13 per­cent from 2015.

The Chicago Depart­ment of Fam­ily and Sup­port Ser­vices did the 2016 point-in-time count of home­less peo­ple over the course of one night in late Jan­uary. The num­ber of home­less peo­ple iden­ti­fied in the 2016 street and shel­ter count was 5,889, down from 6,786 in 2015, mark­ing the low­est ob­served count of home­less in­di­vid­u­als city­wide in more than 10 years.

Twenty-one per­cent (1,243) of the peo­ple counted were “un­shel­tered,” mean­ing they were re­sid­ing in a place not meant for sleep­ing, such as a park, street, aban­doned build­ing or pub­lic transit. That’s a 40 per­cent de­crease in the un­shel­tered pop­u­la­tion from last year.

This year’s PIT count also al­tered its method­ol­ogy on the CTA, sta­tion­ing teams on the 24-hour Red and Blue lines and two bus routes. Home­less in­di­vid­u­als could be seen re-board­ing at the end of the line and were eas­ily iden­ti­fi­able and counted at these points. Teams also tal­lied peo­ple spend­ing the night in ma­jor in­door trans­fer points in Loop sta­tions. This helped give a more ac­cu­rate un­shel­tered home­less count than in pre­vi­ous years.

So how does the CTA deal with home­less rid­ers? Be­gin­ning in De­cem­ber, the agency has ad­di­tional per­son­nel on the Red and Blue lines to help iden­tify those who might be rid­ing trains in a con­tin­u­ous loop, tak­ing up ad­di­tional seats or are in need of as­sis­tance.

“We rec­og­nize that home­less­ness is an is­sue on some of our trains and buses and can im­pact the ex­pe­ri­ence of other cus­tomers,” Tol­man said. “We have a proac­tive ap­proach and work closely with com­mu­nity part­ners, in­clud­ing Catholic Char­i­ties and Thresh­olds, to pro­vide al­ter­na­tive op­tions for home­less in­di­vid­u­als.

“We don’t have the re­sources to pro­vide per­son­nel in ev­ery rail car, so rid­ers should no­tify a CTA em­ployee if they see some­one in need of as­sis­tance. And if they come across any­thing un­san­i­tary, they should tell CTA per­son­nel who will work to get it cleaned up.”

Thresh­olds’ Mo­bile As­sess­ment Unit pro­vides out­reach, psy­chi­atric care and re­source re­fer­ral to peo­ple ex­pe­ri­enc­ing home­less­ness with se­ri­ous men­tal ill­ness. The or­ga­ni­za­tion also has a spe­cial CTA team that pro­vides clin­i­cal as­sess­ments and en­gages home­less in­di­vid­u­als in need of ser­vices on pub­lic trans­porta­tion. Mada Leanga, team leader of Thesh­olds’ Mo­bile As­sess­ment Unit CTA team, said they’ve pro­vided aid to more than 300 peo­ple this year.

Thesh­olds’ CTA team is com­posed of six peo­ple, all of whom are li­censed clin­i­cians. They typ­i­cally set out for their CTA out­reach be­tween 8 and 9 a.m., but some days they start as early as 6 a.m., do­ing overnight shifts once a month.

When it comes to in­ter­act­ing with home­less in­di­vid­u­als on pub­lic transit, Leanga sug­gests leav­ing them be.

“We never wake peo­ple up,” Leanga said. “You don’t know the men­tal state that per­son may be in, and wak­ing them sud­denly could be a trig­ger. Other­wise, I have no other ad­vice. They are pretty cool peo­ple; they just have nowhere else to go.”

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