Is homelessness in Chicago an unsolvable problem

Is homelessness in Chicago an unsolvable problem
Homeless person's spot at underground Wacker Drive along the Riverwalk. Notice how neat it is and the open bible on the right.

The installation of what are called anti-homeless barriers at the Belmont overpass is creating a stir among homeless advocates. For about a decade, homeless people have lived under this Kennedy Expressway overpass.

Friday morning the homeless were evicted from the overpass by Streets and Sanitation, Human Services, and police personnel. Human Services was on hand to assist the homeless. Some are celebrating that an eyesore is being removed. Others are concerned that the homeless are just being shuffled someplace else to be someone else's problem.


Homeless man begging on a Chicago sidewalk.

Homelessness, like crime is woven into the historical fabric of Chicago. During the early days of the city people lived in fields until they could get a job, build a small stake, or strike it rich. Even those who were employed in menial labor were homeless.

Homelessness became a publicity issue during the 1980s. The homeless problem exploded when courts ordered mental institutions to release patients being held involuntarily. They were released with nowhere to go.

Over the past three decades attempts by politicians and various groups to tackle the problem have been mounted. Most attempts failed, some miserably. The homeless are still on the street and their numbers are growing.


Homeless man on DuSable Bridge

While many so-called experts claim to know the various issues surrounding homelessness, they can never figure out what to do.

Many homeless people in Chicago eschew the shelter system for various reasons, the rules, having to be back on the street by a certain time, or the long lines with no guarantee of a shower, hot meal, and bed. The so called experts never realize you cannot help people who do not want to help themselves. You cannot force people to except your handout or hand up.


Mother and children sheltered in a Michigan Avenue doorway.

Many, if not most homeless people in Chicago have mental, alcohol, or substance abuse problems. Others lost their homes after losing their jobs or low income marriages that fell apart. Whole families are homeless.

One of the reasons homeless people gather in groups is safety. There is safety in numbers. A group cannot be preyed upon as easily as a loner.

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This will be the scene throughout Chicago as the weather warms up.

Something has to be done. No one really wants to solve the problem. NIMBY is the prevailing attitude in every area of Chicago.

People do not want large shelters in their neighborhoods, commercial areas do not want them, and many consider shelters and homeless people lingering in the area as eyesores.

Streetwise and Inspiration Corporation have two viable programs to assist and transition the homeless. Their resources and programs are limited. They can only take in so many people.

The big question beckons. How do you help people who do not want or cannot help themselves? We no longer can round up mentally unstable people and institutionalize them. We cannot force alcohol and substance abusers into programs. We cannot force people to want to follow the rules of shelters.

We cannot force people to do anything they do not want to do or do not have the mental capabilities to do.


Lines stretch for a block outside Catholic Charities. People are waiting to get a hot meal.

Let's face it, the homeless will be on the streets and none of us wants them in or around our neighborhoods. Even Underground Wacker Drive and the connecting streets are over crowded.

These are people. Our people. They are someone's son, daughter, mother, father, sister, or brother. All most want is a safe place to protect them from the elements at night. Shuffling them around the city will do no good. It just disperses them until they are shuffled again.

Chicago is home to some of the best creative minds in America. People who can solve some of the most critical issues in the world. Hunger in primitive lands, AIDS in Africa, research to eliminate various jungle diseases, or programs to alleviate poverty in third and fourth world nations.

Our colleges and universities are brimming with people of supposed conscience who protest and rail against what they perceive are various injustices throughout the world. They conveniently ignore injustice they can see daily.

Yet here, in our own backyard, on display for all the world to see, is a problem that all these so-called bright minds are blind to.

Homeless man on a downtown street.

Homeless man on a downtown street.

Chicago is also home to acres of unused vacant land and more vacant and abandoned buildings than can be counted. Most of these parcels and buildings have been unused for years.

Maybe some of those bright creative minds can come up with solutions to assist the city and help our homeless instead of strange faceless people continents away. No, there is not an "App for that".

The politicians can't or won't solve the problem. Charitable agencies and services are getting overwhelmed.

Is homelessness in Chicago an unsolvable problem or a challenge to the best and brightest minds to tackle?

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