The Daily Northwestern: Registry Week finds fewer homeless people in suburban Cook County

Sammy Caiola, Reporter

The Alliance to End Homelessness in Suburban Cook County recently released the results of its first Registry Week, which counted 125 unsheltered persons and nearly 1,000 sheltered persons in the areas north, west and southwest of Chicago, a decrease from last year’s count.

Founded in 2004, the alliance is a nonprofit organization that coordinates a range of services and housing options for homeless people in Cook County. Since 2005, the organization has conducted a biannual “Point in Time” survey, in which teams visit suburban regions of Cook County to calculate the number of unsheltered persons sleeping in public spaces.

This year, the survey team amped up its efforts for the first Registry Week, which involved canvassing areas for three consecutive days between 4 and 7 a.m., rather than just one night. They also conducted vulnerability surveys to gauge risk factors for homeless people, such as substance abuse and medical conditions. The Registry Week additions are a requirement for the alliance’s participation in the 100,000 Homes Campaign — a national movement to find permanent homes for the nation’s homeless.

Loren Seeger, program coordinator for the alliance, said homelessness can be particularly problematic in suburban areas like Evanston because communities are usually uneducated about it.

“A lot of people think that because you’re in a suburb, there are no homeless people in that area, when that clearly isn’t true,” she said. “A lot of people also think that more affluent communities don’t have this issue, and that’s a misconception … The fact that it’s sometimes more hidden in the suburbs makes it more of a problem.”

Of the 125 unsheltered persons found in this year’s count, 33 were in the North subregion, which contains Evanston, while 49 were in the west and 43 were in the south. In addition to street interviews, the alliance conducted surveys at several suburban shelters, including Hilda’s Place, a homeless shelter in Evanston. In total, volunteers conducted 346 interviews. Within this group, they found that 32 percent had a high mortality risk and 35 percent were suffering from a serious health condition.

The organization also identified a number of homelessness “hot spots” in Evanston, including Burger King at 1740 Orrington Ave., Uncle Dan’s Great Outdoors Store at 901 Church St. and Cinemark Century Theaters at 1715 Maple Ave.

The sidewalk in front of CVS Pharmacy at 1711 Sherman Ave. is often occupied by persons asking for money. Andre Green, assistant manager of that store, said these people are most likely homeless, but their presence has not disturbed business so far as he can tell.

“I haven’t had any problems, and I don’t think we have a policy on it,” he said. “They do come in because when they collect enough money, they buy things. It’s one of the most popular fronts on the street, so they probably get a lot of traffic here. But there haven’t been any incidents that I know of.”

Alex Thurston, a fourth year religious studies graduate student, said as an undergraduate he lived on Clark Street and frequently interacted with people on the streets — which he still does today. On Sunday, he stopped and talked to a man outside of CVS, whom he referred to as a friend.

“I see different guys every day,” he said. “They usually tell me stories. Usually they’re funny. It’s important for people to treat each other with dignity, regardless of if money changes hands or not.”