Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Is The CTA Treating The Homeless Unfairly?

The CTA is installing new signs on their rail system (seen here on the left). Are they too harsh? Join the conversation at "Chicago Carless."


  1. Thanks for posting this.

    I would invite, the author of 'Chicago Carless' to spend some time at the Wilson L stop, to get a feel for what 'Uptowners' have to deal with from time to time.

    I've seen some pretty whacked out homeless people, literally clear out a train car.
    Seeking warmth didn't seem to be the primary intent.
    Bottom line....if you are intoxicated and/or exhibit threatening behavior, you're breaking the law and shouldn't be on the train.

  2. That's very true. Mind you, such behavior is not confined to the homeless. Anyone being aggressive, abusive, or threatening ought to be removed from CTA facilities.

    By the same token, homeless Chicagoans simply seeking warmth on an 'L' car because they're afraid of going to a shelter and not bothering anyone...should they be put out in zero-degree weather without the CTA caring whether they have two bucks in their pocket to find their way to warmth?

    My heart says no. That's why I wrote the post. It's gotten a lot of play in the past few days. What I find almost pathetic though is that the only winter-warmth statement released by the CTA during the same time concerned stove-top stuffing installing gimmick air warmers inside bus-stop ads.

    That says alot about the agency's priorities, not to mention humanity, IMHO.

  3. I agree. The problem is that is becomes a rolling home, which includes as bathroom. the Red line smells of urine way too many times. So careless, I do not think so. Also, in the tunnel I see the same people sitting there not taking the trains, while elderly are standing who are too afraid to ask or sit near a person who will knock you over with the BO or urine smell from them

  4. Someone riding the train repeatedly for warmth, is not the same as some of Uptown's classic characters who ride the train. I.E. some of the members of the Dearborn Grocery parking lot camp, who routinely urinate in public, wander into traffic asking for money, or publicly swill beer from a paper bag.
    THESE are the people I've encountered on the train.....and THESE are the people who should be removed from the train.
    I'm guessing the CTA is targeting these people.

  5. I ride the train everyday--the Redline--and also take the train through Wilson into Lawrence (yep, Uptown), and I have yet to see this calvacade of marauding stinky homeless on the train all the time. Before I am called an apologist or something, I did not say I never see any homeless on the el--including people who have come through the train asking for money. And I will admit that I do not squeal with glee when a funky person of any housing or mental status is occupying the train or asking for change. I'm just saying that I don't generally see some overwhelming number during the day and evening hours. I think this issue is more concerned with the later night hours when the train may generally be a little less crowded. Any person--homeless or not--should be removed from the train if they create a disturbance, are threatening, commit any sort of crime on the el. But I have never even heard of this policy and it seems generally unfair and unworkable, and highly likely to be applied disproportionately to people who may be seeking a warm or relatively safe place to "be" at night. I don't understand how it hurts my quality of life for the 20 minutes or so I spend on the train for someone else, whose situation I do not know, to have a safe place to be at night. I think some of the compromises suggested in the post on the other site--such as at least informing people of where else they could go if in fact they are riding the els for shelter--could at least make the discretionary application of this policy a little more humane while still protecting the CTA coffers and the sensibilities of some of the other riders.

  6. I don't feel CTA is treating the homeless unfairly. This new sign provides CTA another scapegoat when removal of a problem passenger is necessary (not that they need a new one!).

    Remember the CTA is still a business and people who treat the service as their temporary home, source of income (peddlers) or podium for free speech are imposing on their agenda on CTA and it's passengers.

    Yes we need the CTA, however I see public transit as a transportation service provided for the general paying public. Use CTA for anything other than this and you are not complying with the rules of society and should be removed.

  7. I know a formerly homeless person who rode the el in order to stay warm and safe. Given how well this person is doing today, I guess I'm glad this was an option. Who knows how many people ride the el without anyone suspecting that they are doing it to save their pennies to get a permanent place to stay?

    Given that Ron Huberman lives in Uptown, one would think that he would have thought more about how this policy would be implemented. I mean, how can you even board the Wilson EL station everyday and not think about the effects of such a policy? Helen, please give him a call!

    I suspect that this is all about the Olympic bid and the general cleaning up and sweeping under the rug that the City is doing. Daley has managed to "hide" the poor and homeless far away from the city center but the trains cut across the city and bring the mentally ill and homeless into spots where they are otherwise not welcome.

    The bottom line is that sleeping on the EL is the symptom and homelessness, mental illness and poverty are the root cause. What we should be talking about is why our city leadership prefers pushing the problems to the corners of the city rather than really dealing with the issues. Cutting waste, fraud and the number of sweetheart deals in this city would be a way to free up more cash!

  8. The truth of the matter is the CTA is not one of the many Chicago programs designed to HOUSE the homeless.

    Are they preventing the homeless from riding? No. They are simply posting rules and regulations due to abuse.

    Yes even the homeless must follow rules just like the rest of us.

  9. Riding the L in order to avoid going to a shelter is a quick band aid solution that ultimately keeps the homeless person on the streets longer. Certainly, no one wants someone to freeze to death but allowing this practice is not ultimately helpful to the homeless person either.

    I would rather have the CTA require the homeless person to leave the train and at the same time, coordinate their efforts with the Dept. of Human Services to get the homeless some more lasting help.

    The argument used to allow the homeless to set up camp in trains is that CTA should be compassionate. The more compassionate approach, then, is to assist them with getting help that empowers them to really change their lives.

  10. Not that the homeless and the aggressive and violent panhandlers aren't part of the reason for this sign, but I'm also wondering if this isn't a way to address the drug dealers who spend the day "riding the rails" looking to make deals.

  11. While it is generally considered that this signage is directed to the homeless, keep in mind that, following the letter of the sign, you yourself could be booted off if you, say, live at Jarvis, work in the Loop and ride north to Howard to catch a train going south and to get a seat, as has happened before I'm sure.

    As for the disruptive, violent passenger, of any socio-economic group, of course they should be booted off, regardless of whether they're crossing from train to train. But some homeless guy sleeping in the corner? ... personally not a big deal.

  12. I'm with the CTA on this one too. The signs might not do any good, but I can't fault the CTA for trying.

    If we need more shelters in the city, let's tackle that problem, rather than sweeping it into the Red or Blue line trains.

  13. Agreed.

    The CTA was not designed to be, nor should it be used as, a rolling shelter.

    The tax payers already pay a lot of money towards shelters and services to help those less fortunate.

    If these people are afraid of shelters then something needs to be done to address that which does not involve mass transit.

    This sounds like an issue that's right up Shiller's alley, though.

    She should get right on this.

  14. Couldn't disagree with you more, Mike Doyle. CTA trains are not a homeless shelter. They're to get people from point A to point B, homeless or not. As you point out, people misusing the trains are not *only* homeless people. But clearly, homeless people are part of the problem here. And strangely, you imply that people who aren't playing by the rules should be bounced -- unless they're homeless? As others have said, we need to fix the real problem -- more, better places for the homeless to find shelter, than to misuse our public transit resources in this way.

  15. I for one thoroughly enjoy the days when I leave for work early around 6AM, get on the red line and am greeted by one or more drunk/cracked out homeless dudes. Typically they're smoking, drinking, sleeping, peeing (or all of the above) on the train. I mean, what's the problem? They need somewhere to go.

  16. Good for the CTA, although it seems like an obvious overreach to put these in all stations, as there are clearly obvious instances where someone isn't continuously riding the system but just missed a stop, etc.

    To the substantive point, the CTA is not a homeless agency and they shouldn't try and pretend that they can carry out that mission. There is nothing wrong with that.

  17. Sounds like another thing for which the Chicago Police can write a ticket. I am sure that it will be a great revenue porducer that they can then sell to a private third party to fund some total worthless addition to the vastly over budget Millenium Park!

  18. Living in Uptown over the past two years has pretty much sapped any compassion I might have once held for homeless people.

    That being said, I could care less how they utilize public transportaion, just as long as they don't stink, they don't sprawl out across more than one seat and sleep, and they don't urinate inside the rail car/bus...

    Unfortunately, for many of them, this seems to be asking too much.

  19. "I am sure that it will be a great revenue porducer that they can then sell to a private third party to fund some total worthless addition to the vastly over budget Millenium Park!"

    Do you think that homeless people actually pay those tickets? What it would really be is an avenue for more arrests.

  20. I don't understand the mentality of, you can't help the homeless by letting them have a place to sleep, that this does not "empower" them. Every action is not going to miraculously transform everyone's life--but it might keep someone alive another night. Sometimes you just act in the most humane way possible toward another human being who appears to be in need. Yes, I want someone to have long term ability to move out of homelessness, but I don't understand how this is accomplished by ignoring the immediate need for shelter and safety as well.
    I'm not saying the trains should be hotels or flop houses, but the fact that some people need to use them as such speaks as much to some deficiencies in the city's ability and willingness to respond to this problem as it does to any "deficiencies" in the homeless person.

  21. I think what is important is if the city is going to persist with this policy that it needs to be backed up with some kind of requirement to link people to a warm place to be.

    The person I know who rode the train did it because they got off work after the shelters had closed. They rode the train because it was considered safer than being on the streets and because they had no family in the area and because if they had gotten a room anywhere it would have taken almost all of their earnings. The city has no idea how many people like this are "flying under the radar" in their homelessness. These people are part of the homeless "undercount" as it is called.

    I think we are all closer to agreement than we think. The CTA is not to be used as temporary shelter. But, since it IS being used for temporary shelter (for reasons the city is well aware of BTW) this punitive policy should be matched up with some kind of assistance.

    This is a perfect issue for Helen to get behind. Most of her constituents would support her in an effort to make the city provide follow-up resources/services to anyone kicked off a train. Pigeons? Urban Chickens? Who cares. I will never understand why she doesn't act on things like this and make the whole city respond to issues rather than just shouldering them on herself.

  22. Neighborlady, I'm all for interventions that have shown success with working to help the homeless. My experience as a social worker is that when we tolerate or encourage them to remain isolated in their situation (such as using CTA as a shelter or panhandling) it drives them deeper into the cycle of homelessness.

    Social workers and social service agencies that are committed to the use of best practices to help the homeless would not want their clients to use the CTA as an option. It deepens their isolation.

    The causes of homelessness are many. Tolerating or encouraging "just one night" on the train often falls into another night, and then another night, and it goes on. I am all for a compassionate approach to addressing homelessness that has also demonstrated success of leading them to more independence. I won't condone enabling people to remain trapped in the cycle of poverty and isolation.

  23. I see no problem with the signs that CTA put up. It is merely stating the law. Does it guarantee enforcement of the law? Of course not.

    I don't live in Chicago, but I live in a large metropolitan area with a train/subway system. Our laws state that you could be fined up to $250 (I think) for not having a ticket or pass.

    Our fare system is on an honor system - it's not like NYC where you have to go through a fare turnstile. Occasionally there will be police officers or transit officials checking for tickets and passes but they are sporadic. I have seen people get citations for not having a ticket/pass. I have also seen an officer tell the rider to go buy a ticket (and not give him a citation).

    Tickets are for only one direction on the train or subway. What happens if you missed your stop and have to back-track? Quite often, the police will take your word and not give you a citation either.

    So really, the signs changes nothing. There are signs that say no eating or drinking (with a fine of up to $250 as well) but who pays attention to those? People who follow the rules will continue to do so, people who don't (whether they are homeless or rich) won't.

  24. James, I don't think one approach necessarily eliminates the other. A combination of temporary short-term approaches combined with long term solutions seems just as well-equipped not to "enable" someone. I am not certain there are camps of homeless on the el--I really don't know since I am not on there during those late night hours. But if there are, this suggests a citywide issue that goes far beyond Uptown. And frankly I still have a hard time swallowing the enabling argument. The reality is, if I were CTA personnel and if it were a freezing night--or just your average winter in Chicago-- and someone was riding the els because they clearly had no place else to go at night, and they were not endangering anyone, I would not give one thought about "enabling" them by allowing them to be someplace safe for a few hours. To me, that is mere compassion. Further, you don't really know where that person is in their life, and allowing them that bit of compassion may in fact help them get through a brief tough time until they reach that point where they don't need to ride the els to stay safe. I understand your thoughts on best practices, but I do question the timing and logic behind all of a sudden implementing such a policy as winter is bearing down. If such a policy is to be implemented then the city could at least provide people it boots off the train with alternatives. By encouraging our leadership to engage in a humane application of policies that we know will disproportionately affect vulnerable populations, maybe we will not "enable" leadership to brush aside inconveniently ugly social problems in an effort to render these issues invisible.

  25. I don’t believe the Chicago Alliance to End Homelessness would not endorse letting a CTA conductor “just once” letting a homeless person sleep on the train for the night. Underneath this problem of not having a bed for the night is usually a host of other insurmountable problems. It could be due to physical abuse, drug or alcohol dependence, a run-away adolescent, mental illness, a serious physical illness; the list goes on and on. It is rarely due to just the loss of a job. The other glaring issue is that the person has no support system in place and that is always a huge red flag for other underlying issues.

    The chances any homeless person can resolve the problem on their own is highly unlikely, especially if there’s a weak support system in place. Letting it go just one night because it’s cold outside delays the real fix that’s needed and my experience of working with the homeless is that one night often turns into more nights. I’m speaking as someone who has training in this area and as someone who helped establish a homeless shelter.

    Where we can both agree that whatever approach is taken, there should always be compassion. If you get the chance, NPR did a great Ira Glass program that spoke of 2 chronically homeless individuals in NYC who struggled to put their lives back in order. It was powerful story that would be good for everyone to hear.