Snowy CTA Night with Coalition for the Homeless

(Photo: Brr, it’s been cold out there.)

Earlier this month, I blogged at length about a new Chicago Transit Authority initiative to roust homeless riders from late-night ‘L’ trains during frigid Chicago winters when such riders take to the rail system seeking warmth.  The initiative was supported by the installation of signs (like the one above) at rail terminals banning “continuous riding” of trains without exiting and paying an additional fare.  My writing elicited coverage from major print, broadcast, and Internet media and motivated the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless to maintain a closer eye on the transit agency.

On the very snowy evening of Tuesday, December 9th, the Coalition invited me to tag along on a field-monitoring mission to see whether and how the CTA’s new policy was being put into practice at rail terminals throughout the system. I accompanied executive director Ed Shurna and Coalition staff to the Red Line’s North Side Howard Street terminus where we stayed from 10:00 p.m. to almost midnight, watching a steady stream of bleary-eyed homeless riders (two to five individuals per train) transfer from northbound to southbound trains.

One rider told us he’d go to a shelter if he only knew where to find one. Another told Coalition volunteers at the Red Line’s South Side 95th Street terminus that each night around 3:00 a.m., CTA staff now removes homeless riders from trains and demands that they pay a fare or risk expulsion.

We were heartened to see that CTA personnel were not actively ejecting homeless riders during the ongoing snowstorm.  But when I asked a CTA guard what kind of information they had available to lead homeless riders to alternative shelter, I was told the only recourse available was to call an off-site telephone number and let the supervisors try and locate a Chicago Department of Human Services outreach team.

The CTA can do better.  On December 2nd, I suggested that transit-agency staff hand out information cards at ‘L’ terminals listing the nearest available shelters and resources to at least mute the sting of a late-night expulsion from the system.

I’m happy to report the day after the monitoring trip, Shurna told me the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, itself, may adopt my suggestion and create such information cards and offer to supply them to the CTA for transit staff to hand out to homeless riders during late-night hours.

The Coalition may also take me up on another suggestion to survey homeless CTA riders to help better determine why these riders persist in seeking overnight shelter in the ‘L’ system–and what would need to change at the city’s existing emergency shelters for homeless riders to feel safe enough to go there, instead.

I’ll know more about these potential, wonderful new initiatives in the New Year–and you’ll know about them as soon as I do, so stay tuned…

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