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Chicago’s Humanitarian Crisis

Underground Wacker near the Chicago River/Image: PV Bella

The news blew up this week with the humanitarian crisis unfolding in Afghanistan. Video and photos of thousands of people rushing to the airport in hopes of getting out. People were climbing on taxiing Air Force jets, hoping against hope. Purported pictures of people falling to their deaths from planes after take-off.

Journalists consulted their assignment editor, Twitter, for the latest news or videos coming out of Afghanistan.

This is the latest media barrage of humanitarian crises from someplace else. Before this, it was the tragic earthquake in Haiti. Hurricanes, cyclones, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions, wildfires that create humanitarian crises dominate the news with tragedy, death, and destruction. There is a never-ending humanitarian crisis at the Mexican border and immigrants risking their lives to get into other countries.

On and on, we are assaulted by these crises. People weep, start crowdfunding, try to find a way, any way, to help, even if it is only posting their drivel on social media- “Pray for whatever or wherever,” with images of candles, crosses, or Jesus. They forget Jesus and his Father went on vacation eons ago. They are enjoying themselves watching the lunatic asylum they created.

There is a citywide humanitarian crisis in the Chicago wasteland of blind ignorance. The homeless problem in Chicago is exponentially growing and has been for several years. There are large encampments throughout the city. One or two tents are dotting some of the smaller parks and other public spaces.

The larger encampments form their own communities. The residents make rules so they can live together in some semblance of safety and harmony. Occasionally, the city uses the police to assist Streets and Sanitation in cleaning these areas. Sometimes there are struggles as the homeless try to save what little they have before the pressure washers start their tasks.

The homeless are treated like urban blight by the politicians and citizens in this city.

Every day is a struggle. The local news media ignores them, for the most part. Their agenda is to follow the national bleeding headlines and run with them. They toss around phrases like systemic this or that, national reckoning on something or other, the root causes of God knows what, or whatever phrase they can gin up with to go viral nationwide. It is all about ratings and clickbait.

Once in a great while, they will do a story on the plight of the homeless. They will drag out their experts with no expertise to explain the situation and possible solutions. There will be photos or B-rolls of encampments. Maybe even an interview or two, edited for time and clarity.

The homeless problem is nothing new in Chicago. The enormity of the issue is. This city struggles with solutions to mitigate homelessness, as it grows, with failure after failure. The only time politicians and bureaucrats show empathy is when their mugs are in front of news cameras. They would prefer the homeless disappear, living someplace else.

Politicians love to show up at public relations stunts with hard hats and shovels, touting the latest real estate development. Some laud developers who build low-income or transit-oriented housing. None show up at homeless camps or encourage developers to create some form of accommodation, partnering with public and non-profit social service agencies.

There are many organizations and individuals trying to help, feeding, providing clothing, medical and dental care, and some social services. It is never enough. They range from major organizations like the Salvation Army and Catholic Charities to individuals who cook and distribute meals.

Winter is the worst time of year for homeless people. Chicago winters are brutal. There are not enough shelters. Most only allow overnight stays. Some city warming centers get overcrowded, especially police stations, libraries, and other facilities.

We are more concerned with crises in other places while ignoring what is before our eyes. Seeking the causes of homelessness are as elusive as seeking the causes of violent crime in Chicago. No one, even so-called experts, has answers or solutions.

We tend to blame the homeless for their situation. They are mentally ill, refusing to get help, or made bad life choices. Whatever the reasons, they are still human.

The homeless are a marginalized population. They are not public relations marginalized like other groups. There is no homeless flag to fly from government buildings proudly, no Homeless Lives Matter groups or signs, and no mass social justice protests to change their plight. Maybe someone could sell lawn signs to post all over the city, “Homelessness Has No Home Here.”

Elected officials offer no hope, some way off the streets and out of the tents, some way to transition people into a residence. We pick and choose what to care about, weep over, provide assistance, or give “aid”. It is rare for people in our city. We care more about people from some place else.

No one chooses to be homeless. We choose to ignore them.

Published inUncategorized