Homelessness sends shelter seekers to Chicago’s O’Hare Airport

FILE – In this June 25, 2020, file photo, rows of United Airlines check-in counters at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago are unoccupied amid the coronavirus pandemic. (AP Photo/Teresa Crawford, File)

(NewsNation) — Faced with nowhere else to go, a number of homeless individuals in Chicago are having to stay at O’Hare Airport for warmth during the winter months.

People can be seen sleeping on heaters, and clothes are drying on railings.

Local media have reported that unhoused persons often have no other places to go.

The Chicago Tribune spoke to one man who had been sleeping on a friend’s sofa at night — but that friend was later admitted to the hospital.

The Chicago Department of Aviation said in a statement to NewsNation that it’s aware of the increasing population of unsheltered persons at the airport.

“It’s a common occurrence at this airport and airports nationwide when temperatures drop in the winter months,” the statement said.

Chicago’s Department of Family and Support Services and delegate agencies, according to the Department of Aviation, provide outreach to homeless residents at O’Hare. If the person chooses to accept assistance, outreach professionals connect them with services.

“The CDA remains committed to working with its partners at the Chicago Fire Department (CFD), the Chicago Police Department (CPD), and other governmental and community-based organizations to support those in need and connect them with available resources in Chicago,” the statement said.

Chicago’s Haymarket Center, a nonprofit that provides aid and services to people recovering from substance use disorders, reported a serious increase in the airport’s homeless population last year.

Block Club Chicago reports that the organization served 25% more people in 2022 than in the previous year.

This only increased in 2023, according to the Haymarket Center.

“Our January at O’Hare was one of the busiest Januarys we ever had,” Jessica Dubuar, director of health and specialty services, said to media outlet Block Club Chicago. “We are seeing more individuals and more encounters (who are) new to our system.”

Haymarket conducts an outreach program at O’Hare. While the nonprofit is open 24 hours a day, it does not have sleeping capacity. But Dubuar told Block Club Chicago that Haymarket is looking for more funding options, and works with local agencies and other outreach groups.

According to the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, an estimated 65,611 people were experiencing homelessness in Chicago in 2020.


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