O’Hare International Airport and Mayor Lori Lightfoot have reached out to the growing number of homeless people who seek shelter in the airport’s terminals each night.
At a press conference Wednesday, Lightfoot was asked about a Fox News segment about Chicago airport homelessness in which Tucker interviewed Carlson Ald. Raymond Lopez, 15, a frequent Lightfoot critic.
“The fact is we have taken and will continue to take the necessary steps to remove people from airports,” Lightfoot said. “The airports are a very different place from being on the street, under an underpass. It’s a safe place and the message to the Department of Aviation, the Police Department up there is clear from me.
“As a matter of principle, we cannot allow homeless people to sleep in our airports. This is unacceptable. We will continue to do what is necessary within the law to provide support to these people, but elsewhere. They cannot be at our airports.”
The Tribune first reported on the situation in O’Hare in January, telling the story of 77-year-old Norbert Pikula, one of the many homeless people who spend their nights at one of the country’s busiest airports.
The airport’s statement comes as social media has exploded with comments from people saying the issue reflects poorly on Lightfoot’s leadership and others calling for more humane treatment of the homeless.
“O’Hare International Airport continues to make significant investments in homelessness services at the country’s second-busiest airport to ensure 24-hour outreach and mental health services are available to the airport’s vulnerable population,” the airport said in a Twitter statement Thursday. Contribution .
The airport’s next tweet thanked social workers, the Chicago Department of Family & Support Services, and first responders such as the Chicago Police Department and Fire Department.
“By working together, the O’Hare community will continue to treat vulnerable individuals with the dignity they deserve, and we remain committed to doing our part to help address one of society’s greatest challenges,” the Twitter concluded -thread.
O’Hare International Airport continues to make significant investments in homelessness services at the country’s second busiest airport to ensure 24-hour outreach and mental health services are available to the airport’s vulnerable population.
— O’Hare Intl. Airport (@fly2ohare) February 16, 2023
Lopez shared a tweet Thursday saying he encountered a woman named “Wheelchair Amy” at the airport Wednesday night. The councilman, which was considering a run against Lightfoot for mayor this cycle and backed one of her opponents, Willie Wilson, said Lightfoot continues to ignore the homeless who spend their nights in O’Hare.
While airport housing isn’t new, the ever-growing number of people doing it is, said Jessica Dubuar, director of health and specialty services at the Haymarket Center. The center has conducted outreach operations from O’Hare since 1990 to address homelessness on public transit.
Advocates and airport workers have cited a number of reasons why more people are seeking shelter at O’Hare. First, winter weather usually forces people to find warm, safe places to sleep for the night.
Additionally, beds in homeless shelters were reduced at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and have never been restored. Meanwhile, migrants who recently arrived in the city are using homeless shelters, and homeless shelters across the city are overwhelmed.
Delta’s move to Terminal 5 has also left Terminal 2 empty of passenger traffic, Transportation Security Administration agent Jessy Pearl told the Tribune.
Haymarket Center’s 24/7 outreach program continues to serve the airport’s homeless community. Funded by the Chicago Department of Aviation, it is conducted in conjunction with the Department of Family Support Services and a variety of other community partners, such as:
“We have a range of resources available locally including food and coffee, water, hand sanitizer, masks… those things. We also have clothing, toiletries and a few other items available,” Dubuar said. “We will also invite people to come and sit down and talk to us. And we do a little assessment with them and look at all sorts of things from health care, mental health care, drug use, benefits and ID and all of that stuff.”
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According to a report by the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, an estimated 65,611 people were homeless in Chicago in 2020, an estimate that differs from that of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development because it accounts for people who are double-dwelling or temporarily stay with others.
On February 2, the US Department of Housing and Urban Development announced a $60 million grant to Chicago, part of $315 million in federal funding for 46 communities across the United States to help combat homelessness. Chicago Continuum of Care, a coalition of more than 100 organizations and individuals working to end homelessness in the city, will be responsible for managing the funds.
The grant money will be used to expand services, e.g. B. In outreach teams to get more vulnerable people into homes, said Carolyn Ross, president and CEO of All Chicago, the overseer of the Chicago Continuum of Care.
Gov. JB Pritzker on Wednesday unveiled Home Illinois, a plan that this year will invest $50 million in prevention, crisis response, housing units and personnel to help end homelessness across Illinois during his State of the State and Budget address.
“In Illinois, blacks are eight times more likely to be homeless than whites, but the faces of homeless Illinoisans are not uniform,” he said. “These include single parents with infants and young children, sixth graders trying to complete their homework by using toilets as desks in temporary shared apartments, and LGBTQ+ high school students who have been kicked out of their homes by their parents. Homelessness is not an identity but a set of circumstances.”
Gregory Pratt and Lizzie Kane of the Chicago Tribune contributed.