Following an increase over the years, a group and law enforcement are working to address the homeless population at O’Hare Airport – CBS Chicago


CHICAGO (CBS) — A frustrated O’Hare worker, a homeless population that has grown in recent years, and a possible solution on the West Coast.

CBS 2 Morning Insider Tim McNicholas weaves it all together as he dives into an age-old airport challenge.

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An O’Hare employee who asked to remain anonymous showed us these photos of people sleeping in the airport.

“It’s what welcomes visitors to Chicago,” he told us. “Begging at the airport, sleeping in the terminal.”

This 1989 photo shows that’s nothing new for O’Hare, but we wondered if the total had increased.

The city’s most recent data comes from an overnight count of homelessness that found 236 people at the airport in January 2020 compared to 162 in 2019.

“COVID has added additional layers of complication.”

Jessica Dubuar works with the Haymarket Center, a group that has partnered with the city for 30 years to get O’Hare’s homeless people all the help they need, including shelters and treatment.

The group counts every encounter with a homeless person in O’Hare.

“We followed, and we saw an increase in the numbers we had in 2020, greater than before,” she said.

Haymarket says these encounters are still more frequent than before the pandemic, but they have started to decline from this 2020 peak.

“Homelessness is a problem in Chicago and has been going on for years and years. And I think the pandemic just contributed to that,” Dubuar said.

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And that’s a problem not unique to O’Hare.

At LAX, a small team of plainclothes police work with a mental health clinician and a homeless outreach group.

Airport Police Chief Cecil Rhambo calls it the Crisis Response Team.

“They treat with dignity, with compassion, but we also have rules that we have to abide by for safety reasons.”

He says the approach has helped place 100 people in housing over the past two years.

According to LAX, in the annual count of Los Angeles’ homeless population, conducted this month, police counted 10 people inside the airport.

“That number has dropped significantly,” Rhambo said. “I’ve been here for about two and a half years.”

“When I got here, we had about 100 to 120 people living, hanging out, living in the airport here.”

The Chicago Department of Aviation says Chicago faces unique challenges compared to Los Angeles and other warmer cities. For example, O’Hare tends to see more homelessness in freezing temperatures, and it’s also easily accessible via the Blue Line.

Chicago recently did another one-night homeless count, but they couldn’t yet provide totals for O’Hare or the entire city.

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The city says it is also working with law enforcement to deal with trespassing.


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