Amid winter holidays, city’s homeless not celebrating

It’s the time of the year. Everybody has finished giving their thanks, the Christmas/Hannukah/Kwanzaa festivities are over, and people are looking forward to what new adventures the New Year has to bring.

However, each winter season it seems there is a forgotten portion of the population, a group of people who, in their time of need, cannot treat the winter holidays in the same celebratory way that the rest of us do.

For each of the Christmas gifts purchased along Michigan Avenue, there is a person in Chicago who suffers from a lack in the basic necessities of life and fulfillment: shelter, food, meaningful human connection and so on.

Although we are all done buying gifts for our family members, it’s still time to do some more giving. There are plenty of others who are in need of more than thanks to get through the rest of the months that comprise the brutal Chicago winters.

I talked to a homeless man who went by Morris, who explained his struggles with finding shelter.

“During the previous months, a lot of us (homeless people) have been staying in Grant Park,” Morris said. “It’s not like there are a lot of options; as a single male, I get turned away from a lot of shelters, and a lot of places in the city we can get harassed even by other street people.”

Statistics back this sentiment up. According to the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, there were 14,127 beds provided by various shelters in the city of Chicago, many of which are reserved for certain at-risk demographics such as homeless youth. This is not nearly enough to support the 116,042 people in the city who experienced homelessness between mid-2012 to mid-2013, the last time period recorded by the Coalition. With Chicago about to hit record-low temperatures, this is an especially harrowing figure.

“It’s not like I asked for this to happen; I got laid off as a security guard a while back, and I’ve been looking for jobs,” Morris said. “However, put yourself in an employer’s shoes. I’ve been on the streets and I look dirty. How many employers do you think actually like to hire people that look the way I do?”

Morris’s struggles with finding employment have been so difficult as to the point that he would not delude his full name or allow his picture to be taken, in the case that potential employers saw him homeless on the internet.

“I’ve been denied employment in the past based on the fact that they find I am homeless,” he said. “With this, how am I supposed to get off the streets?”

Recently in August, Illinois enacted a homeless “Bill of Rights,” which introduced a number of measures including the prevention of employment discrimination against the homeless. However, it is safe to assume that few of the people who would benefit from this bill have awareness of these new rights, and fewer still have the resources to pursue lawsuits in such cases of discrimination.
Too many are focused on simply getting by day-to-day. Before Christmas, I spoke to another homeless person along Michigan Avenue, a mother of two named Janice Brauer. She talked about what it’s like being homeless during holiday time.
“It gets sad, obviously, seeing all these people with their gift bags and things, knowing more people could make little contributions or something. I just wish to be able to get a little something nice for my kids here,” she said.

Little contributions won’t lead to a job or a home for Chicago’s homeless, and is unlikely to eliminate the personal or institutional factors that lead to the phenomenon of homelessness. Nevertheless, they do go a long way in brightening people’s day-to-day lives.

“I know panhandling ain’t going to get us located anywhere better, but sometimes I can get my kids a toy or something to play with,” Brauer said.

Contributions ranging from an hour of work at a homeless shelter to purchasing a meal for someone can help play a part in assisting with this day-to-day struggle. Although the holidays are over, try to open up something during the upcoming quarter – your wallets, your schedules, your hearts – and treat this as a time of giving.