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Chicago’s Blue Line is a rolling, warm hotel for homeless black men

Chicago’s Blue Line, a rolling hotel for homeless black men

The Chicago Transit Authority ‘s Blue Line begins and ends its run at O’Hare International Airport, one of the world’s busiest airports.

Passengers take the Blue Line to O’Hare to catch their flights. Returning passengers hop aboard the subway to rode to a station near their home.

The Blue Line route is 26.63 miles, stopping at 33 stations in Chicago and the suburb of Forest Park. Each day, the Blue Line carries 186,796 passengers, making it the second busiest subway line compared to the Red Line. It operates seven days a week, 24 hours a day.

I returned from Los Angeles to Chicago 6:30 am Saturday after attending a conference sponsored by the Maynard Institute at the University of Southern California. I took an overnight flight, leaving L.A. at 11:55 p.m. Friday to land in Chicago.

I picked up my bag at baggage claim and headed to the entrance of the Blue Line. I briefly stopped to listen to beautiful music played on a tape recorder by a homeless street musician. I didn’t know the name of the song but it made me smile.

I walked past an unsmiling black woman CTA employee and paid my fare with my CTA fare card.

There was a train waiting in the station. “Oh, great,” I said to myself. “ I don’t have to wait.” I started to climb onto the first car, but it was full. All of the passengers, from what I could see, were black men sleeping with coats and jackets covering themselves to keep them warm.

I looked in four other cars. Homeless black men had turned every seat into makeshift beds.

My discovery was not a surprise. African Americans are more than 40 percent of the nation’s homeless population although blacks only account for 12.5 percent of the total U.S. population, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development reported in 2017.

I finally found an empty seat in the fifth car where I could sit and rest my luggage and backpack. I heard one homeless man snore but otherwise the trip was quiet as passengers got off at their stops and others got on for their journey.

The number of homeless men riding the Blue Line was noticed several years ago by CTA employees with the closing of homeless shelters and mental hospitals, a CTA spokesperson told me. He did not want his name used.

Homeless black men riding Chicago’s Blue Line

April Miller, who rides the Blue Line to O’Hare before transferring to a shuttle bus that takes her to Rockford, Illinois, said seeing homeless men huddled on train “makes her very sad and very angry.”

“I wonder why society allows this to happen,” said Miller, who doesn’t drive.

The Department of Housing Urban Development study reported that the lack of affordable housing has contributed to the growth of homelessness.

Deinstitutionalization, which involves moving the severely mentally ill out of the state institutions, and the closing of part or all of those institutions also has contributed to homelessness.

The latter affects those who became ill after the policy has gone into effect and for the indefinite future because hospital beds have been permanently eliminated.

The CTA spokesperson did not know how many homeless men ride the Blue Line daily but from my eyeballing, it was a lot, especially now with the weather turning colder coupled with torrential rains.

Homeless men were lying down on every seat in the first four cars. In cars, where they were sitting, no one, or not many,  wanted to sit next to any of them. Miller said she does not want CTA employees to force the men to get off the train especially as the weather gets colder.

Once the homeless men reach the end of the line, they must leave the train and repay the fare before getting back on, the spokesman said.

Like the Blue Line, the homeless also flock to the city’s library branches, viaducts and doorways for shelter. But the Blue Line has an advantage over the library branches because the Blue Line is open seven days a week, 24 hours a day. Some the library branches close at 8 p.m.  at the latest and many are not open Sundays. The viaducts are cold and drafty as are the doorways.

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