JEFFERSON PARK – A widespread effort to crack down on dirty trains, smokers and people who live or sleep in CTA cars and stations it has resulted in homeless people being forcibly removed from trains and stations, and at times their belongings being thrown in the trash, witnesses and lawyers say.
For at least two years, homeless people have used the heated canopies at the Jefferson Park Transit Center, 4917 N. Milwaukee Ave., as a respite from freezing winter temperatures.
Monica Dillon, running The Northwest Side Outreach Outreach group of volunteers, said security guards arrived early in the morning for at least four consecutive days last week and again on Tuesday morning to remove people from shelters and throw away some of their belongings.
Video of one incident shows security guards walking into the bus shelter and telling people, “it’s time to get up and go.” A guard kicks an area near a person’s head to make it move, the video shows. The person then walks away, while the others don’t move. After a few minutes, the guards don their gloves, return to the shelter and throw away some of a man’s belongings in an attempt to get him to move, the video shows.
Security guards told witnesses they received orders from CTA leaders to clear the area so people staying in the cold could use the bus shelters, they said in the video.
Dillon, who works with people at the transit center to help them find housing and other resources, said security teams shouldn’t throw out anyone’s belongings or treat them with contempt.
Dillon and his team of volunteers have been working with guards and CTA employees by conducting regular station checks to get people out of the shelter and pick up trash to keep the area clean, he said.
That’s why recent actions by security guards are shocking, he said.
“For security to come and do these aggressive things, it doesn’t make sense…it’s disgusting [and] dehumanizing,” Dillon said.
Maddie Kilgannon, a spokeswoman for the CTA, said “the guards have adequately engaged with people seeking shelter at the terminal” and defended their actions.
“No personal effects were thrown away [and] only after homeless people packed up their belongings was the area cleared of small pieces of debris left behind,” Kilgannon said in a statement. “CTA works in close coordination with the Department of Family and Support Services to have regular on-site staff at the Jefferson Park Transit Center to offer assistance and resources to those affected.”
“I’m waiting for an apartment”
The bus shelters reopened in December after being closed for 10 months after a man damaged the glass. They have long been a place where people suffering from homelessness in the area can find refuge.
The morning commute has filed a number of complaints about people sleeping at the transit center, saying it makes them feel unsafe.
Scott Andrews, a journalism and graphic design student at Northeastern Illinois University, used to commute to school from his Park Ridge home using the station five to six times a week. Now that he lives on campus, he drops by two or three times a week, he said.
On multiple occasions, he said he saw a man relieve himself on the sidewalk and in the transit tunnel.
Area cleanup closed parts of the station and added hours to his commute because it delayed buses, he said.
While Andrews said he understands those in bus shelters, assisting in public urination and defecation — and how it affected CTA’s operations — ruined its perspective on those homeless in the transit hub, he said.
“It was the vilest thing I’ve ever seen,” Andrews said. “People were passing by and there would be poop and pee on the sidewalk. He was disgusting.”
One of those arrested by security – who asked to be called by his first name only, Ken – said he believed that an individual who has mental health issues and who sometimes urinates and defecates at the station is driving most of the complaints.
The individual has since moved out of the shelter, Ken said. Dillon said security guards primarily target the larger shelter because it’s where most of the people who have personal belongings sleep.
“They’re using the excuse of peer pressure or something, so they want them all out when it’s more of an issue with just one person,” Ken said.
The situation points to a lack of resources on the Northwest Side for homeless people, Dillon said.
Shelters across the city have long wait times or are fully booked and there is no dedicated social services team or a shelter for homeless people in the area, he said. There are also no heating zones on the northwest side.
The list of government funded apartments and subsidized housing is also long. Last week, one of the men living at the Jefferson Park Transit Center was given an apartment and moved out after being waitlisted for two years, Dillon said.
Ken said he wants the community to know that “we’re not that bad” and is trying to get out of the way but has limited options, he said.
Ken moved to Chicago a year ago from Alaska and lived in a tent on a nearby forest preserve. After being ejected, he came to the Jefferson Park station because it’s too cold to be in a tent right now, he said.
It took him a year and a half to find an apartment when he was in Alaska, he said. He’s been waiting for a job in Chicago for about a year, she said.
“I’m on a disability and not paying enough to pay the rent,” Ken said. “I’m waiting for an apartment.”
Ali Simmons, an outreach coordinator with the Chicago Coalition for the Homelesshe said the coalition plans to visit the homeless at the station soon to conduct awareness-raising activities and inform people about possible resources, he said.
Rep. Lindsey LaPointe, whose area includes Jefferson Park, wrote a letter to the CTA asking how leaders plan to address the issue. As a lawmaker, she advocates more funding for shelters, homeless care and treatment that can help build the mental health workforce, she said.
“We need to build our behavioral workforce: nonprofits, mental health, the homeless [outreach coordinators] they’re all struggling to hire,” said LaPointe, who was just named chairman of the Illinois House Mental Health and Addiction Committee. “Part of the solution is making sure there are people in those roles and that people are there to do the job.It is affecting this problem as well.
Listen to “It’s All Good: A Block Club Chicago Podcast”: