It's an unfortunate problem that cannot be ignored: homeless people panhandling near popular businesses and at many of the city's intersections.
Business owners in Portage Park were concerned that the presence of panhandlers was discouraging potential customers from visiting the shopping district. After realizing that aggressive police enforcement wasn't working, the Six Corners Business Association held a meeting to discuss their options.
"Some business owners wanted to use enforcement only. For example, 'Call the police and have them pushed out'," association chairman Joe Angelastri told the Chi-Town Daily News. "We decided on a different approach, which was to actually find the reasons why they were there and to then get them help and social services."
The Business Association enlisted the help of Hands to Help Ministries, an outreach organization that encompasses several area churches and non-profits. Six Corners provided Hands to Help with a grant that allowed the organization to hire a part-time social worker that they previously could not afford.
"The goal was to find people who were homeless and staying on the streets, specifically at the Six Corners, and get them into some form of housing," said Rev. Kara Wagner Sherer, executive director. "That has morphed with the help of the Irving Park Food Pantry, where we also worked with people who are in danger of becoming homeless."
The difficult economy has caused many people to lose their jobs. Many of the newly unemployed have never been in the unfortunate situation before, and they don't know where they can turn for help. Others may feel too ashamed (or too proud) to apply for benefits. Panhandling may seem like the only solution to someone who isn't familiar with "the system."
Social worker Kieran Gadbury works to build personal relationships with the homeless in the area. Once trust is established, he has a better chance of convincing them to accept help.
"Our mission is not to get homeless people off the streets, it's to get them to want to get off the streets," Gadbury said. "We don't want to forcefully put someone anywhere where they don't want to be because they won't stay there."
Matt Bartosik is the editor of Off the Rocks' next issue and a "between blogs" blogger.