On a late January night, city workers and volunteers fanned across the city to count the city’s homeless population. Despite frigid temperatures in the upper 20s, they found men and women huddled in tents, sleeping under piles of soiled blankets and lying on cardboard boxes and wooden pallets. Some had settled in small encampments under expressways. In 2015, Chicago reported 6,786 homeless people living on its streets and in its shelters, a 8 percent increase over the previous year. Thirty percent of the homeless in 2015 were living on the streets. Photographers for the Reporter accompanied census takers for their official count last month, and later visited places in the city where homeless people have formed small encampments.
[Some photo subjects declined to give their full names.]
Al Powell stands next to his tent underneath Lake Shore Drive on Lawrence Avenue. Powell says that he was one of the first to set up a tent in this viaduct. This month, Powell will be moving into an apartment in Englewood with the help of Mercy Housing. But he plans to return to visit the people he now considers friends. He plans to give his tent to someone in need.
A man named Bata cleans the area around his bed under the Belmont Avenue viaduct on January 28.
Mike Kradenych, has been living under the Kennedy Expressway on Belmont Avenue for over four years. He recalls that when he first moved to the viaduct, the city would discard his possessions and those belonging to his homeless neighbors. But the group found lawyers who helped them fight the city. Kradenych, who struggles with addiction, says people often treat him with disdain. “People spit at me,” he said. “You start feeling like an animal. You don’t feel like a human being.”
Someone living under the Kennedy Expressway on Belmont Avenue wrote messages on a pillar, including rules of conduct for neighbors.
An unmade bed under the Belmont Avenue viaduct in the Avondale neighborhood.
Fencing was added in recent years under the Kennedy Expressway on Kimball Avenue to prevent homeless people from settling there.
A man sleeps under a blanket in a park near Lake Shore Drive in Uptown on February 1.
Alfredo has been living at an underpass on Armitage Avenue in Bucktown for 14 months. He is blind in his right eye, which affects his ability to work, and says he has trouble finding housing because of a past criminal conviction. He says he’s received several tickets for panhandling.
Alfredo asks for money from drivers exiting I-90, where he says he can sometimes make $15 to $20 a day. “The city only comes to throw us out, not to offer any alternatives,” he says.
Those living in the viaducts know that because of cleaning, maintenance and other work, their bedding and tents can never be viewed as permanent.
Linda sits in the sun near the Wilson Avenue viaduct encampment, where she is currently living in a tent with other homeless individuals. Linda says she mostly keeps to herself and crochets in her spare time.
Linda peers out of her tent on Wilson Avenue on January 26. She sells clothing that she crochets at churches and on the sidewalks.
Homeless individuals live in tents, many donated by Uptown residents, under the Wilson Avenue viaduct in the North Side neighborhood.
Lorenzo Castillo of the Chicago Department of Family and Support Services gathers information from homeless people living under Lake Shore Drive in Uptown as part of the city’s Point-In-Time count. The count is a census of homeless people in Chicago.