Walking from Van Buren and State Street down to Wacker there are roughly 15-to-20 people on the street begging for change or cash. A woman who looks to be in her 30s sits on the cold cement on the corner of these streets with her daughter who looks to be in her early teens.
“My husband, God rests his soul, passed away recently and I have resorted to begging on the streets. Because of my culture I feel very ashamed having to come to the street asking people for money,” said Marium Patel, who goes from the streets in the evening to either Chicago Temple or Holy Name Cathedral to sleep with her daughter; Aisha. “I had nowhere else to turn to, mine and my husband’s family is back in India. We had moved to Chicago for a job he had been offered; now he is gone.”
Before leaving Patel said, “It must look very bad to have my child sitting here with me on the streets asking for money; however, it does make people feel sympathetic and I do get more money.”
Her daughter is reading a book and a spiral notebook sits on her lap. Smiling at her mother she says, “We will be okay, eventually.”
Of the 93,780 Chicagoans who are homeless “CPS(Chicago Public Schools) identified a record (of) 15,580 homeless students in 2010-11, 97.9% of them children of color,” Chicago Coalition reported.
“America’s Youngest Outcasts 2010,” ranked Illinois 29th of 50 states in child homelessness according to a study by The National Center on Family Homelessness. It states about 58,000 children in Illinois were homeless in 2010, up from 30,636 in 2006.
Anthony and Stacy, who want to keep their last name anonymous due to their safety, recently moved to Chicago after a friend told them there are more jobs than in St. Louis where they were originally living.
“We both lost our jobs in St. Louis and after you lose your job there goes your home. Our three year old boy was then taken from us by DCF,” said Anthony. “Sure enough DCF wouldn’t help us find a job so we could support our child, so we reached out to Streets to Home Initiative.”
Streets to Home Initiative is where “two full time social workers place up to 25 chronic homeless individuals in housing and provide intensive case management services with a focus on assisting the individuals in maintaining their housing,” according to Catholic Charities website.
Both Anthony and Stacy sleep in Grant Park when they are not hustled away by other homeless people. There are nights when they receive enough money to take the last CTA train and sleep in warmth.
Like Anthony and Stacy, Sasha Williams too has slept on trains or in the stations. Williams came to Chicago with her husband who was seeking employment opportunities.
“My husband knew someone who had a snow removal company here and so we came here. As soon as we made it here the job fell through, as did mine. Things got tough with my husband so I had to leave and I’m here now.”
Williams recently had her purse stolen from her which had her ID and the last of her cash. Her only family member is her father who is apparently living with friends while unemployed.
More people have resorted to live on the streets and beg due to the economy, however, there are those who question how to decrease, or even end, homelessness in Chicago.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel revealed plans to readjust former Mayor Richard M. Daley’s 10-year plan to end homelessness by generating more jobs and permanent housing, improving 311 service and reducing “youth homelessness”.
John Pfeiffer, first-deputy commissioner of the city’s Department and Family and Support Services, said “The plan will be based, in part, on a 2.5-year study by researchers at the University of Chicago and Loyola that tracked the progression of more than 500 people through the system.”
Emanuel said in a press release, “Chicago’s Ten Year Plan to End Homelessness has made great strides in creating a homelessness infrastructure that serves to help our most vulnerable residents regain self-sufficiency and stability.” He continued, “But there is still much work to do. Plan 2.0 will build on current achievements while addressing the evolving needs of our homeless residents to provide a more effective strategy for combating homelessness.”
With the 10-year plan in effect and its 2012 budget already including a seven percent boost in city funding for homeless services—to $8.56 million–and a new 20-bed shelter for 18-to-24-year-olds, there could be a possible decrease in homelessness in Chicago. However some view the action a little too late.
“I give Emanuel credit for seeing there needs to be an increase in the funding for the homeless in Chicago and help for people like me but what can he do now,” said Williams.
“It is December and the worst of the weather will hit, and I still can only make so much money to get on a CTA train in the evening to stay warm.”