Homeless in Chicago

Here’s how a small group of homeless people deal with the winter in Chicago: constructing warm nests under a train overpass. This is only three blocks from my house. As far as I could see, there are no humans in this photo; the residents are probably out foraging.

It’s heartbreaking that we have this in America.

UPDATE: A Facebook reader pointed out that there are people here, lying in the fetal position. I didn’t notice them, and wouldn’t have taken this photo if I had.



  1. Posted January 12, 2017 at 2:41 pm | Permalink

    I have always wondered at the contrast over being called the wealthiest country on earth, yet we are too poor to have the programs and services other countries can afford to give their population. Hugs

    • eric
      Posted January 12, 2017 at 3:40 pm | Permalink

      Short of a wholesale alteration of our social (and/or) tax structure, I’m not sure there is a good solution. However, many cities and states have bans against feeding homeless people and will fine charities for doing so. A good place to start would be getting rid of such draconian and cruel ordinances. Even if sanitation and crime are serious problems that go along with such charity efforts, there has to be a reasonable way to allow them.

      • jaxkayaker
        Posted January 12, 2017 at 6:30 pm | Permalink

        I just read a report that Tampa has again been fining people for feeding the homeless in public parks.

    • mikeyc
      Posted January 12, 2017 at 5:49 pm | Permalink

      We aren’t too poor, we just don’t give a damn.

      • Posted January 12, 2017 at 6:03 pm | Permalink

        I find that so horrible. We simply have no excuse. Hugs

      • gravelinspector-Aidan
        Posted January 12, 2017 at 6:58 pm | Permalink

        I’d rather got the impression that there is active, vicious, considered hostility to the poor and ill on the behalf of many in political power. As if they feel rather embarrassed to be reminded of this difference between their assertions (“greatest country in the world” ; that “everyone want be in America” song) and reality.
        Surely it is better to hide problems than to admit to them and try to fix them.
        Next thing you know, they’ll be singing that America isn’t a racist society, as if repeating the aspiration would change the reality.

    • somer
      Posted January 12, 2017 at 8:26 pm | Permalink

      Ive noticed a rise in homelessness through the 90s and since in Australia. In Australia and much of the english speaking world I think rising housing and rental cost is the main factor, in england also radical deindustrialisation under Thatcher. Globalisation has affected all countries – and its just the spread of influences causing more rapid change in economies

      Housing prices is probably less a factor in US which until very recently appears to have had effective new deal programs re this but where the republican attitude to the poor is one of contempt.

      • Diane G.
        Posted January 13, 2017 at 3:59 am | Permalink

        In the US, alcoholism, drug addiction, and mental illness play a much greater role in homelessness than economics.

        • p. puk
          Posted January 13, 2017 at 6:45 am | Permalink

          You might want to consider that living in a fucked up society is enough to drive sane people to drink and drugs. Addiction is mostly a symptom and not a cause.

          Mentally ill people should be cared for by society and not be discarded onto the street.

          • Posted January 13, 2017 at 8:11 am | Permalink

            There was a big move (based on good motives, AFAIK) in the 1990s to move people from institutional settings (the old “mad houses”) into society. The idea was: “Least restrictive setting possible”. (And no one would say there weren’t significant problems with the institutional settings!)

            This has driven much of the jump in homelessness.

          • Diane G.
            Posted January 13, 2017 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

            While I certainly agree with you–I wasn’t disparaging people who have those problems, just pointing out some common reasons for homelessness–the Devil’s Advocate in me wants to suggest that there are far worse societies to live in in this world than the United States.

            And you might want to consider that addicts may have physical and genetic predispositions and are not just drowning their sorrows.

    • Mike
      Posted January 13, 2017 at 8:08 am | Permalink

      There are plenty of Homeless in the more “enlightened “Cities in Europe, we have plenty in the UK It’s a damn disgrace.

      • Posted January 13, 2017 at 8:25 am | Permalink

        I agree it is a disgrace for people to be without shelter or substance. I am not sure what we need to do but we need to do something. Hugs

  2. busterggi
    Posted January 12, 2017 at 2:46 pm | Permalink

    Of course there are no people in that piture – they were the only REAL Christians and were raptured before Trump the AntiChrist begins his reign.

    • David Duncan
      Posted January 13, 2017 at 12:19 pm | Permalink

      These people live in a Democratic city in a Democratic state which recently voted Democratic for president.

      I don’t see why the president elect is being mentioned.

  3. Randy Bessinger
    Posted January 12, 2017 at 2:47 pm | Permalink

    I remember hobos, but I don’t recall homeless until the Reagan administration. Maybe just my bias showing

    • BobTerrace
      Posted January 12, 2017 at 2:52 pm | Permalink

      It has been there a long time:

      From Wikipedia

    • Posted January 12, 2017 at 3:19 pm | Permalink

      All sources say that Reagan administration exacerbated the problem of homelessness by kicking people out of mental health institutions, allegedly to receive community-based assistance which never materialized.
      I generally like Reagan, but this was a very bad move.
      This said, I do not understand why no administration after Reagan’s addressed the problem seriously.

      • Randall Schenck
        Posted January 12, 2017 at 3:39 pm | Permalink

        A great deal of the mental health institutions are now closed. All of those millions have gone to the streets or prisons. I am very aware of this because I happened to come from a small town in Iowa that had one of 4 institutions in the state. All were created and built in the late 1800s and the one here had as many as 2500 patience at one time. The now have zero.

        • gothamette
          Posted January 12, 2017 at 4:49 pm | Permalink


          I remember this case well. It was tragic.

        • Michael Waterhouse
          Posted January 12, 2017 at 11:38 pm | Permalink

          Same in Australia. In Victoria anyway.
          We had large institutions for both psychiatric care and mental retardation.
          I was a student nurse in mental retardation many years ago. (Sounds very un PC.)
          But the same thing happened and they closed them, for community based care, which let many slip through the cracks.
          It also saw a rise in police shootings. A pretty small problem hear. The police did address it and implemented different training but the homeless thing still applies.
          It was the same a small government ideology more than ‘care’ that was the motivator.
          Many people found sanctuary on those large institutions when they needed it.
          They became prime real estate.

        • Posted January 13, 2017 at 8:25 am | Permalink

          I lived through this as well, here in the US.

          I think the motivations weren’t (generally) as sinister as people are implying here.

          I think the motivation was to put people in the “least restrictive setting possible” rather than what was considered “warehousing” them in the residential institutions at the time (and many of those had some serious problems — and some still do in Minnesota, where I live).

          This was a parallel movement to the one that advocates for “main-streaming” special needs kids in schools. (Again, “least restrictive settings”.)

          The results for both have been mixed at best. And it certainly (for the mentally ill) was the big driver in increasing the homeless population.

          And I would say it (mainstreaming) is probably the biggest driver of the increase in public schools costs. My wife is a career public school teacher and has witnessed this. Many of the special needs kids require a full-time employee, one-on-one, simply to control and support them. That’s more or less a 30X increase in cost for the one student. (And I can tell you that there a plenty of special needs kids in urban districts.)

          • Posted January 13, 2017 at 10:46 am | Permalink

            Not to worry! The Republican push toward Charter Schools and doing away with public education is advancing nicely. Most folks don’t realize they *don’t have to accept* everybody, as do the public ones.

            • Posted January 13, 2017 at 11:02 am | Permalink


              Charter schools (Minnesota started them) don’t do as well as “regular” public schools.

              My wife’s district is required to provide the Special Ed services for students going to private schools! They troop over to her school from the nearby (extremely expensive) private school for those services. So, the taxpayer is subsidizing those oppressed parents who can afford send their kids to a high school with tuition higher than a public 4-year university.

              And, as you noted, Charter Schools and private schools operate under different rules and specifically, they don’t have to take all comers, as the “regular” public schools must. Special Ed is really expensive, so of course the for-profit outfits will offload that onto the public schools. Think that might skew performance results (and costs)?

              Yeah, sure, it would be easy to fly high if you get to cherry pick the students you admit!

              Universal public education: Only the most beneficial social program ever devised.

              Why would one want to keep that going when one can take general public funds to subsidize the wealthy (even more)?

      • gothamette
        Posted January 12, 2017 at 4:34 pm | Permalink

        Excuse me, but it had nothing to do with the Reagan Administration. It had to do with wrong-headed Notions about deinstitutionalization. The agenda pushed by the ACLU have a lot to do with this.

        • Michael Waterhouse
          Posted January 12, 2017 at 11:40 pm | Permalink

          A bit of both I would say, but with more emphasis on small government ideology.
          It is no coincidence the type of governments that implemented these changes.

          • gothamette
            Posted January 13, 2017 at 7:43 am | Permalink

            Ed Koch wasn’t a small government libertarian. Did you even bother to read the link that I put up?

            • gothamette
              Posted January 13, 2017 at 7:45 am | Permalink

              There is an assumption in these comments that the majority of homeless people are otherwise competent for people who are homeless because of rising housing costs. That is a very false assumption. The majority of homeless people are mentally ill or chemically dependent probably both. I do not say this to put them down, it’s just a fact.

        • Posted January 13, 2017 at 1:55 am | Permalink

          You are right that people from the left pushed for deinstitutionalization. And they were partly justified, because institutions have their own set of problems.
          But I think it is the authorities who are responsible for a policy, not the activists who have pushed for it. The new system should have been tried low-scale, in one or a few districts, to see how it works.
          If I have mental health issues that make me unable to care for myself, I wouldn’t want to be hidden from view in an institution and bossed around, and I wouldn’t want to live in the streets of my city and beg for food. I think I’d like a community-based system. But first it should exist.

          • somer
            Posted January 13, 2017 at 2:01 am | Permalink


          • gothamette
            Posted January 13, 2017 at 7:48 am | Permalink

            I agree that the institutions were and are horrible places. But I put the blame for this mess squarely on the left. They were the ones who created the etiology of deinstitutionalization. The left claims to believe in science but they really are very childlike. they don’t believe in science, they believe in “scientism.”

      • gravelinspector-Aidan
        Posted January 12, 2017 at 7:02 pm | Permalink

        They are receiving “community-based assistance” – to as early a grave as the community can manage.
        Thatcher and her intellectual descendants are continuing to try the same here in Britain. They’re sure they’ll get to their desired American state, eventually.

    • Rita
      Posted January 12, 2017 at 7:27 pm | Permalink

      I remember when I was a little girl back in the 50’s, sometimes hobos would come thru our town, they would knock on the door & ask if there was some work they could do for food. My mother would make them a big sandwich & they would go jump on the next empty boxcar, I guess. There have always been a very small number of homeless people who prefer it. But, the large number of homeless (and hatred of the poor) did start with Reagan. Though to be fair, he was aided and abetted by well-meaning liberals who didn’t want to let people be institutionalized against their will.

  4. Posted January 12, 2017 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

    With luck they may be in one of the places the city won’t crack down on a do sweep, confiscating and treating their belongings like trash.

  5. David Coxill
    Posted January 12, 2017 at 3:02 pm | Permalink

    Over here in dear old England there are a lot of measures take to stop people sleeping in doorways and on benches ,spikes ,cold water .

    • charitablemafioso
      Posted January 12, 2017 at 3:15 pm | Permalink

      It’s the same in the US. My city is currently looking to fine people (many, if not most homeless) for standing on medians and panhandling. It’s being put forward under the auspices of safety, which to be fair, is probably part of the reason. But this proposed law still primarily targets the homeless, and I wish my local government would work harder to find solutions that don’t hurt an already vulnerable population.

      • Paul S
        Posted January 12, 2017 at 3:53 pm | Permalink

        Conversation I’ve had.

        Coworker: F’n homeless dude. Always begging on the corner. He should get a job.
        Me: Yup, you’re right. Why don’t you hire him for the warehouse.
        Coworker: Fuck no, he’s homeless.

        And that’s why they need more than food and shelter. Giving to the food bank helps, but they need so much more. Making homeless illegal is the worst of all solutions.

        • Rita
          Posted January 12, 2017 at 7:29 pm | Permalink


      • gravelinspector-Aidan
        Posted January 12, 2017 at 7:07 pm | Permalink

        nd I wish my local government would work harder to find solutions that don’t hurt an already vulnerable population.

        [Distant sound of an NSA minion in a call centre in India scratching “charitablemafioso” into a little list, of people who will not be missed.] You haven’t drunk the Trump-branded Kool-Aid, have you?

        • charitablemafioso
          Posted January 13, 2017 at 9:54 am | Permalink

          “You haven’t drunk the Trump-branded Kool-Aid, have you?”

          I’m resisting. And hoping he’s indicted, impeached, and imprisoned for treason. (A girl can dream, can’t she?)

          • gravelinspector-Aidan
            Posted January 14, 2017 at 8:30 am | Permalink

            To quote … Rutger Hauer as “Roy Batty”, “Wake up, time to die!”

  6. Posted January 12, 2017 at 3:10 pm | Permalink

    It’s heartbreaking, but I think we have this in all our cities, including Washington DC. Portland, OR has been trying to come up with a permanent solution for some time. But, it hasn’t happened yet. There was an area in the Pearl District that was used some time back for the homeless, but that no longer exists. And, there was talk of other solutions that haven’t come to fruition. I blame the huge number of homeless on our streets to the lack of facilities for the mentally ill, insufficient programs and hospitals for veterans suffering from PTSD, and the extreme lack of employment opportunities (and the banking debacle which caused so many to lose their homes) for the 99%. We’ve had three homeless people die of hypothermia, or freezing to death, over the last few weeks. The mayor of Portland has opened a heated location available 24 hours a day. (Downtown Portland got a foot of snow yesterday.)There is a telephone number, 211, for people to call if they see or find a homeless person needing help. A call has gone out for donations of coats, blankets, sleeping bags, etc.

    • charitablemafioso
      Posted January 13, 2017 at 10:00 am | Permalink

      Living in a military town, many if not most of the local homeless are vets from past and current wars. It’s sad how we are so eager to ship young and men women off to war but don’t want to know them when they get back and need help. The local paper did an exposé on how the major Army base here was dishonorably discharging soldiers with PTSD and brain injuries to save money, per Pentagon directives.


  7. Posted January 12, 2017 at 3:27 pm | Permalink

    Sad. I see new homeless people all the time living in Iowa.

  8. Randall Schenck
    Posted January 12, 2017 at 3:42 pm | Permalink

    I think the really big numbers on the homeless are in the southern states where living outdoors in the elements is not as deadly maybe. The shelters in Omaha, Nebraska are all full this time of year.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted January 12, 2017 at 7:13 pm | Permalink

      Those who didn’t move south some weeks or months ago are probably going to become living (or rather, dead) evidence of evolution in action.
      (Grim mood brought on by watching Travis Bickle’s descent into heroics.)

      • gravelinspector-Aidan
        Posted January 12, 2017 at 7:35 pm | Permalink

        (Grim mood brought on by watching Travis Bickle’s descent into heroics.)

        I just noticed a political poster in the film : “Palatine – We Are The People”, and thought that it sounded awfully familiar. Particularly given that the Palatine was the hill where the Roman emperors had their palaces. Prophetic, really.

  9. Posted January 12, 2017 at 3:54 pm | Permalink

    Every two years, Chicago conducts “The Point-In-Time Homeless Count.” This “…provides the Chicago Department of Family and Support Services (DFSS) with a “snapshot” of Chicago’s homeless population. The data gathered on the homeless in Chicago serves as a basis for federal funding, for service and resource planning, and to raise public awareness about homelessness.”

    This year, it’s held on Thursday, January 26 from 8pm- 2am. It’s citywide, and extends to the south suburbs where I live. Never heard of it before, but I volunteered to help out.

    • Glenda
      Posted January 12, 2017 at 5:40 pm | Permalink

      Good for you! I did same thing for a couple of years in Kelowna BC Cda. Damn near froze my butt off but that helped me have even more empathy with the people I was interviewing out on the cold streets. The results of our surveys or “counts” helped the city get more funding (federal, provincial, municipal)for shelters etc. Today we have a half decent network of overnight locations, places to eat, showers and storage for carts. There is now easier transitioning to consellors and welfare workers and we even have a dental office.

      What I saw happen here was when more of the middle class people in the community began to speak up and get involved in the plight of the homeless the stigma attached to it began to diminish. Then more and more people began to get involved – tried to make a difference. Always more to be done but we have a decent foundation.

      Hope the weather will be well above zero on January 26th. 😊

    • Diane G.
      Posted January 13, 2017 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

      I, for one, would be quite interested in a report on your experience with this.

      • Posted January 13, 2017 at 5:20 pm | Permalink

        I will see what I can do.

      • Posted January 30, 2017 at 8:41 am | Permalink

        Update: Did not get to count the homeless in my area. Ended up having to an emergency move for someone on that night instead of the next day as scheduled. Mayber next time…

  10. Michael Scullin
    Posted January 12, 2017 at 3:59 pm | Permalink

    In Des Moines (22 miles north of me) the progressive City Council has for several years attempted to solve the problem of the homeless living in tents and makeshift shelters under bridges and along the Des Moines River by bulldozing whatever shelters there are, and the problem is solved. Last year one such shelter burned down so the city destroyed all the rest. Problem solved. But when a house burns in a residential area the City Council does not burn down the whole block as I feel they should. Just for consistency.

    • Randall Schenck
      Posted January 12, 2017 at 4:03 pm | Permalink

      Yes, our state is a fine republican state. Only 22 miles north you say. I am 135 miles away and soon to get much further, not that it does any good.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted January 12, 2017 at 7:20 pm | Permalink

      bulldozing whatever shelters there are, and the problem is solved.

      Oh, definitely solved.

      • boggy
        Posted January 13, 2017 at 4:27 am | Permalink

        The French authorities recently bulldozed the shelters that refugees from Afghanistan and Syria had erected in the Calais ‘Jungle’ Surprise, surprise, the people are rebuilding them or hanging out in derelict buildings.

  11. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted January 12, 2017 at 4:51 pm | Permalink

    One can only imagine what a certain someone would say if they were a regular reader of WEIT, and, to the delight of his fans.

  12. Posted January 12, 2017 at 6:28 pm | Permalink

    The homeless here in Germany have it even worse. They see that Germany has enough heart to provide shelter for a million refugees and needy immigrants, but doesn’t have a place for its own homeless citizens.

    (I’m not drawing a false dichotomy here about refugees taking shelter from homeless people. The issues are separate. But it shows exactly how little even a compassionate country like Germany cares about those who fall through the cracks of bureaucracy. Theoretically no one here should be homeless.)

  13. Posted January 12, 2017 at 6:30 pm | Permalink

    It is a difficult problem, but not a hopeless one, I think. We need to spend smarter. Utah has a successful model called Housing First. It has a simple premise–forget social workers and welfare rules. Use the money to build very basic housing units and get the people into them, asap. Utah is different from most states of course, but the basic idea seems sound.

    • mikeyc
      Posted January 12, 2017 at 6:56 pm | Permalink

      Yes, it’s a good idea. It’s been around since the late 1980s with variable results but no doubt Utah has been a smashing success. From the “Comprehensive Report on Homelessness” published in 2014;

      “Chronic homelessness has declined 72 percent since 2005 and chronic homelessness among veterans has reached an effective zero. Declines are primarily due to the provision of permanent supportive housing for targeted individuals using a housing first approach. Housing first means providing housing first rather than requiring sobriety or other steps to be taken prior to housing. This method has proven to be highly effective and cost efficient.”

  14. Justin C. Bagley
    Posted January 13, 2017 at 12:14 am | Permalink

    Hi Jerry, this is truly sad, and I agree with everything people have been saying above. I would like to join in here with a brief perspective from South America… We have been living and postdoc’ing in Brazil for the last two years, and what I have seen this: simply put, members the homeless population are being murdered outright or forcibly moved into shelters or outside city limits, and it’s been this way for years. One outcome of this is manifested as a limited visibility of the homeless population in Brasília (the capital) and other cities during the day, and more movement at night. The homeless do this because it is safer for them. However, sometimes they are involved in crimes and this can make it less safe for others to go out walking at night. Here is an example report based on killings of homeless people in Goiânia (capital of Goiás state):
    http://america.aljazeera.com/articles/2014/10/25/brazil-homeless-killings.html. There, homeless people were being executed in their sleep. So sad. There is also quite a bit of documented evidence of illegal or malicious treatment of the homeless prior to and during the Rio Olympics last summer; in that case, Rio has a very large homeless population that do not live in shelters at all… >5000 by some reports.

  15. Posted January 13, 2017 at 1:13 am | Permalink

    In Lyon, too, we have noticed a remarkable increase in the number of beggars in the streets. There is an urban legend that many of them are united in some sort of organization which trains them and sends them out, like in India, but I am skeptical of such claims.

  16. Pat Mc Ginley
    Posted January 13, 2017 at 5:56 am | Permalink

    re: NYT review of ‘The Atheist Muslim
    Hello, Jerry. I must preface my comments by pointing out how much I enjoyed your excellent book ‘Why Evolution is True’.
    But I have several disagreements with your comments on the NYT review of ‘The Atheist Muslim’
    None of these religions are ‘religions of peace’. But, there was no international condemnation of Islam, regarding dogma, until the Bush and Blair’s ‘war on terror’. In fact, politically-motivated Islamophobia – for which there is as much evidence as there is for evolution, if we care to look – was a political weapon used by neocons to make invasions of Muslim countries much more acceptable to these mainly-Christian countries. Bush even called it ‘a crusade’.
    Jabber’s point about accommodating religious beliefs (which are totally obnoxious and devise to non-believers) with peaceful coexistence, is valid. The fact that there are about a billion and a half Muslims and only a relatively small number engaged in bloodlust quests to slaughter infidels, is proof of this. Plus the fact that very few Christians follow the vengeful god of the Bible’s command to smite his enemies, etc. However, many Jews have a bigger problem since the majority side with the vicious Zionist state of Israel, which is regularly condemned at the U.N. for war crimes, genocide and slaughter of Palestinians. Although many Zionist rabbis accept evolution and reject creationism, etc they still maintain the Biblical claim on Palestine. A marriage of convenience and a clear example of religion being used to justify injustice.
    A questioner at the British Humanist event asked you what could be done to help promote atheism in Muslim countries with abysmal human rights records, like Saudi Arabia? Best thing would be for leading atheists to disassociate with politically-motivated Islamophobia since this can easily be used against beleaguered atheists in these countries as proof that atheism is an anti-Muslim tool of the West. Which of course it isn’t. Thanks for your time, Jerry. And, of course, Neanderthal DNA in most humans is more proof for evolution which creationists have an even harder time disproving.

    • Posted January 13, 2017 at 6:36 am | Permalink

      Weird. Can’t seem to find any mention of homelessness in this post.

    • Diane G.
      Posted January 13, 2017 at 12:09 pm | Permalink

      Wrong thread, Pat.

  17. HaggisForBrains
    Posted January 13, 2017 at 6:03 am | Permalink


  18. Posted January 13, 2017 at 11:50 am | Permalink

    How sad – and true in every major city in the world as far as I know. (Though less so in some places.)

    Sometimes I have food with me and given to those who ask, but …

  19. Posted January 17, 2017 at 7:16 pm | Permalink

    Its a shame we live in a world like this. So sad!

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