Crain’s Chicago Letter to the Editor: There’s a solution to people seeking shelter on the CTA

Published March 26, 2021

We feel it is important to address both the content and framing of the issues identified by Greg Hinz in his column bemoaning the state of the CTA during the pandemic. (“Is the CTA ready for commuters to come back?” March 11).

Most troubling is the way he raises the issue of people experiencing homelessness who are seeking shelter on the trains. He lumps people experiencing homelessness with smoking and garbage as annoyances that need to be removed in order for the city to thrive. Describing people in this light, as well as taking pictures of them while they are sleeping without their permission, is dehumanizing, inappropriate and does not help move us toward solutions that end homelessness.

Transit workers will tell you this has been a long-standing crisis that they are confronted with on the job without adequate resources to address it. The pandemic has exacerbated existing inequities and, once again, our most vulnerable neighbors are bearing much of the burden. Seeking refuge on the CTA is being done out of necessity.

The solution is permanent, affordable housing coupled with supportive services to address mental health and other needs in order to stabilize people in housing. Chicago needs a dedicated revenue stream to meet these needs. The response to this crisis must not demonize, dehumanize or criminalize people experiencing homelessness on the CTA.

What is not needed is more police. Their presence does not guarantee safety and can actually pose additional risks. In particular, we are concerned about inadequately trained police interacting with people experiencing homelessness or a mental health crisis.

What we need is increased safety personnel on the trains and buses who can de-escalate and problem-solve, such as the transit ambassadors of the Bay Area Rapid Transit system in California. We need CTA workers to be trained in non-lethal tactics and act as security officers and ambassadors of the transit system, so operators can focus on getting people safely to their destination.We agree there should be more personnel dedicated to cleaning transit and keeping it safe, but that means more full-time, unionized CTA jobs.

In short, the solution to creating a safe, pleasant CTA ride for all is not to police and cause more harm to already vulnerable people, but to invest in long-term funding solutions to provide enough permanent housing so that no one has to sleep on the train.

AMY RYNELL, Active Transportation Alliance
DOUG SCHENKELBERG, Chicago Coalition for the Homeless
SUSAN HURLEY, Chicago Jobs with Justice