Colder weather brings more homeless to CTA
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.”