The Colors of Homelessness in Chicago
By Reema Dhawan and Diego Madriz
Students in the 2018 Genesis Academy Summer Institute in Chicago
The Windy City holds winds of diversity. In that diversity, there is discrimination. From one street to the next, there is rich, poor, colored, old, young, man, and woman. According to PBS Homeless Facts and Figures, 41 percent of homeless people are non-Hispanic whites while 40 percent of them are African Americans. Endhomelessness.org states that 1 in 5 of the homeless population is African American, which is 2.5 times the rate of the white and Hispanic homeless population in the city of Chicago. Those numbers brought light to questions that not many people want to answer: How do the homeless live on the streets and how do the people walking past feel about the homeless population?
A black man named Lawrence Anthony who stands at the corner of East Delaware Place and Michigan Avenue was interviewed by Genesis Academy. The 63-year-old man, who had a 21-year-old son, spent his time selling “Streetwise” magazines for $1. He said something that not most people would expect to hear from someone who doesn’t have a home, but has full access to one. When asking for consent to take his picture, he decided to write an address, but made sure to clarify whose it was. “This is my mom’s address, but I only go there to clean my clothes and eat some food, very rarely. I don’t want to call it my own because it is not mine to keep,” he said. Knowing he had a home at his mother’s, he continued to work on the streets to fulfill his dream of buying his own. Wearing his blue Chicago hat with pride no matter what the situation, he continued to smile and sell those magazines. Lawrence Anthony called out to say one last thing; “We love you!”
Down the street from Lawrence was a 55-year-old white woman named Ellen. She sat on a carton, and by her feet had placed a sign and a little rusty coffee can for money and donations. At the age of 11, Ellen began drinking and at the age of 16 became an alcoholic til she was 52 years old. Knowing that it would kill her, she finally accepted her problem and stopped. However the idea of death wasn’t the only thing that haunted her. Before becoming homeless, Ellen had a successful job as a Registered Nurses Assistant (RNA). Earning $86,000 a year, she never thought that she would lose her job. However after many complaints of the pungent smell she brought to the workplace, her boss approached her and fired her on the spot. For Ellen, this was a time where she was just “down on her luck.” Later Ellen was asked, on how she felt about the community in which she sits. For her, she felt no community and was on her own. Before the interview ended, Ellen made sure to say that “I want you to know, that I love to help people, but they just don’t help me."
“We love you”, something you wouldn’t expect to hear based on the topic that is in questioned. However, there are many things one wouldn’t expect to hear. An example being “I appreciate how Chicago uses the city's money on the greenery, beauty, and keeping it clean.” See for some, these words are accurate and cause no problem. However in the context of the conversation, it showed the true nature of the obliviousness of higher end society in Chicago.
Dina and Becca Falk, aged 56 and 14 respectively, from San Francisco, California were interviewed for the sake of understanding how the privileged society sees the homeless population of Chicago. Wearing higher end clothing like a orange polo shirt and the daughter with a nice short jean skirt, the fact that Chicago spent their money on the greenery and beauty of Chicago was a huge achievement. However, the context of the situation is that, just before the answer was given, the only thing being said to the duo was about the high amounts of homelessness and how the city of Chicago can help.
Day after day the streets of Chicago are filled with the homeless, which consist of both real and fake people. Some just faking it for the extra money and those who truly need the money as a way of survival. Throughout it all, there are so many things that can be changed about the city of Chicago, however it all depends on how the people of the city and tourists to open their eyes to the problems and positives that the Windy City presents.