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CTA Homeless Harassment Update

(Photo: The Chicago Transit Authority’s holiday train––no room for the homeless? Credit: morydd.)

No, the Chicago Transit Authority has not yet budged from its thinly veiled discriminatory policy of throwing homeless people out of the ‘L’ system at terminals.  Over the weekend in these pages and on my Huffington Post Chicago byline I posted a series of questions about the policy that I had submitted to CTA’s media relations department along with the seriously spin-meistered answers that I received back.

Yesterday, those posts unexpectedly made waves locally and nationally.  I awoke to coverage of the story in Rich Miller’s Capitol Fax Blog, the most important and widely read political blog in the State of Illinois.  I was next contacted by popular citywide newsblog Chicagoist which featured the story and in turn tipped off a slew of other coverage–not to mention comment wars–on sites including Chicago’s NBC 5 and the web-based Chicago Examiner, major transit industry resource site TransitTalent, Seattle-area indie newspaper The Stranger,  national feminist blog Bitch Ph.D., the Progressive Rockies blog Colorado Hummingbird, and socioeconomic pundit Marco A. Garcia.

(Oddly, CTA Tattler, Chicago’s main independent transit blog, remains silent on the issue.)

The whirlwind day culminated with a studio interview by Outside the Loop RADIO, the independent weekly news and features program hosted at WLUW 88.7-FM, Loyola University’s community radio station. (Check for my interview Friday, November 28th at 6 p.m. or visit their website to download it to iTunes.)

(UPDATE: And today, M. Leblanc of the aforementioned Bitch Ph.D. was interviewed about the signs by WBEZ Chicago Public Radio’s community radio project, Vocalo.)

All that’s the good part.  The bad part is that as of this writing, the CTA still intends to throw homeless riders off trains and into frigid Chicago winters at rail terminals, seemingly just to assuage the sensibilities of a minority of ‘L’ riders who don’t want to be reminded that they share the planet with individuals less fortunate than themselves. Not for nothing, those riders can move to another seat or another car a lot more easily than a homeless rider can wave a magic wand and instantly find a home or a job.

Let me be as clear as possible: this is a human rights issue.

In my opinion the CTA has made a covert and discriminatory decision to remove homeless riders from trains and is trying to hide that decision behind a policy applying to all riders (“No continuous riding”) that–as the CTA told me in writing–it has no intention of applying to everyone.

What it clearly looks like the agency does intend to do is eject the homeless into zero-degree Chicago winters in far-flung corners of the city without any care for their physical safety (such as whether they have the means to get to a place of warmth or shelter).  Causing pain and hardship like that to fellow human beings for no good reason is a pretty bad way for the Chicago Transit Authority to ride into the holiday season.

I ask my readers to think about needlessly shivering Chicagoans the next time you see the CTA Holiday Train roll by.  Decide for yourself which image of Chicago you’d like the CTA to portray to the world.

Especially a world to which Mayor Daley is attempting to pass off Chicago as an enlightened, Progressive, 2016 Olympics-ready city.

Categories: Homeless News Media Planning Politics TRANSIT

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Mike Doyle

I’m an #OpenlyAutistic gay, Hispanic, urbanist, Disney World fan, New York native, politically independent, Jewish blogger in Chicago. I believe in social justice, big cities, and public transit. I write words and raise money for nonprofits. I’ve written this blog since 2005. And counting...

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26 replies

  1. Steven, for that matter, when was it deemed humane to put people out on the street in the middle of winter? Throwing up your hands and claiming the “true issue” is there’s no way to help sounds like a self-fulfilling prophecy to me.

    As far as the signage and policy targeting the homeless, I believe my original post speaks for itself and makes that connection more than obvious.

  2. I visit that site regularly and I stand by my comment. Those that “live” on the streets for months/years are chronically homeless and have major problems. I’m not going to argue that times right now are tough. I also don’t see anything saying homeless on that sign. Can you show me where it says that there are no beds or warming shelters on the nights when it is dangerously cold?? I thought the city has teams that go around on extremely cold nights to take people to shelters if they want. I’m sorry but those that don’t go have a problem. No one wants to address the true issue that there is no current way to help this group. If the city tries to pass a ban on panhandling, someone sues. Same thing will happen with this and no one gets help except the lawyers who collect their percentage of the win. When was it deemed humane to let people sleep on the streets or on the L?

  3. This is what I meant when I said it isn’t CTA’s problem. I wasn’t saying we should just let them suffer and die, and I don’t think anybody wants to see that, including the CTA, but they also want the rule following, paying customers to be safe.

  4. Mike, I totally agree with you that that is what Thanksgiving is about and all, but I still don’t understand why you seem to think the solution to this problem is to let them live on a train that is meant to be used to travel from A to B. Also, I will tell you that I have encountered innocent homeless people just sleeping in the back corner of a car, but also encountered a homeless person traveling from car to car on Easter night on the Red line when a homeless man was begging for money, and was harassing me and my family. I was a very unsettling encounter. It also made me question whether the el was safe. This is what the CTA doesn’t want

  5. Matt, I fail to see what’s so hypothetical about January and February weather in Chicago. I also don’t understand–and maybe never will–why anyone would decide ever think we as human beings are not responsible for each other. I think part of the lesson of Thanksgiving is that we most certainly are.

    Ayo, great points!

  6. I think the City Council should get involved and pass an ordinance to ban CTa from arbitrarily throwing people off thetrain who are not disruptive or violent if they can’t get CTA to voluntarily change its mind. On the other hand, there are people with intellectual and emotional or other mental health disabilities who may be riding the train who need help to get to where they are going and only know one way to travel or may know they missed their stop and are riding back. I remember countless youth with disabilities, my son and a friend’s son included who were fascinated by the train and got on and were lost. Will children like them be thrown off in the cold, the rain, unknown neighborhoods to be preyed upon, frightened?

  7. Mike, when you keep saying “eject them into harsh weather with no means of finding their way back to warmth and shelter”, I think you are making it sound way worse than it is. The well being of the homeless is not the CTA’s problem, and as much as I don’t want to see the homeless on the streets, I also don’t want them to think the CTA is a homeless shelter either.

  8. Steven, you say “bleeding heart liberal” like it’s a bad thing. It literally and simply means “compassionate”. Either monicker I wear proudly.

    I’d love to see your data backing up your contention that the only homeless people not in shelters are substance abusers or the mentally impaired. That’s simply untrue. Feel free to visit this website to educate yourself.

    Mind you, nothing in your comment addresses the fact that the CTA’s policy is discriminatory (since it is not applied to all riders), and unnecessarily cruel (since homeless can be ejected into harsh weather with no means of finding their way back to warmth and shelter).

    Care to opine on those two elements of the story?

  9. The truth is that these homeless people have somewhere to go. Until the there are reports that ALL the shelters are filled there is no excuse for it. The homeless that stay on the streets are either alcoholics, drug addicted or have a mental illness. They do not want to follow any rules of the shelters or they think that they are fine on the streets. You have all the bleeding heart liberals and lawyers to thank for this. The L is not a home on wheels. You’ll argue that they have rights. Yes they have the right to ride from point A to point B or go to a shelter.

    1. Oh, I pity ignorant people. Most shelters close there doors early in the evening. You try to be somewhere, EVERY night at 8p.m. sharp and then you can talk trash. I dare you. I know. I know. I worked in one. besides, there are a limited number of beds and some homeless people want to be able to get to the areas where they can find help the next day. Does CTA care? Hell no! they’d rather appease the wants of selfish, thoughtless, ignorant individuals.


  10. Something else to think about:

    How do they actually plan to enforce this? The last time I actually saw a CTA employee on the platform was in 1993…

    Especially in winter, the station employees tend to camp out in their little heated cubicles and only grudgingly come out if someone has card problems.

    So, while I wholeheartedly disagree with this “continuous riding” policy by the CTA, I see it being enforced about as strongly as the “no eating on the trains” policy.

  11. M., thank you very much for getting the word out! I only hope the CTA (or their overseers) is listening.

    For readers that don’t know, Vocalo is a very cool community radio project sponsored by WBEZ Chicago Public Radio. Click the link in the above comment to check them out.

  12. Mike, just wanted to let you know that the story you picked up is getting even more play. I appeared on (a project of WBEZ, with user-generated content and some programmed shows) today to discuss the story, and the host mentioned you on-air.

  13. That’s exactly it. More than once in CTA’s written response to me it was made clear that CTA personnel are instructed to apply the rule according to the “circumstances” of the individual. Point specifically being, CTA will not apply the rule to riders who have missed their stops or are riding back without exiting for other reasons.

    That is not a proper application of a rule that applies to everyone, which begs the question: who will be chosen for ejection from the system? You can read CTA’s own answers in my previous post and decide for yourself. But they made it clear, they will decide who to apply the rule to and who to leave alone.

    Don’t you think that’s discriminatory when it is clear the only people who will be ejected are homeless?

  14. Okay, then how are those rights being violated? Is it because you think that the CTA wouldn’t enforce the rule for the non-homelss? I’m confused, because I don’t see anything on that list being infringed upon. How often is a non-homeless person just going to arbitrarily ride the CTA anyway?

    Seems like you’re arguing against a hypothetical situation that won’t even occur anyway.

  15. Dave, you’re mistaken. According to the internationally accepted United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, this is exactly a human rights issue. (Find a summary here).

    Among the key principles, people have a right:

    –to be considered equal in dignity and rights;
    –to be treated equally under the law;
    -to be free from arbitrary arrest;
    –to freedom of movement; and
    –to freedom of association and assembly.

    All of these rights are undercut but the CTA’s arbitrarily applied policy.

    More than that, those homeless people in question have a right to expect that you, as a member of the larger human community, uphold your responsibility to ensure these rights are available to all.

    But I’m guessing you didn’t actually know the definitional details of human rights before you commented.

  16. Al, that’s fair enough. The question I have (for you and the CTA) is how would you remove the continuously riding homeless from the system in a compassionate, dignified manner? Throwing them off into the cold night is neither of those things and as a Chicago and Illinois taxpayer (meaning I help fund the CTA), I don’t want my money going towards that kind of unenlightened policy.

  17. Sorry, but if they are on the CTA in the first place, they have the “means” to go to a homeless shelter. They can go there instead, where help and heat are waiting. Stop trying to make this into a HUMAN RIGHTS ISSUE when it most certainly is not.

  18. I don’t actually agree with you here. The point of the CTA is to move people from point A to point B. It’s not a homeless shelter.

  19. I thought about that. I think Daley cares about all Chicagoans, though. As much as he might want the homeless off the ‘L’, too, I don’t think he’d want it done in such a cruel way. At least I hope not. I give this city and its mayor more credit than that.

  20. I would imagine this harassment of the homeless is part of Daley’s master plan to get the Olympics. Maybe he thinks they’ll move away (or die) if they are kicked off public transit.

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