Panhandlers are a common sight in downtown Chicago, particularly in the financial district. In the heart of the city’s thriving economic center, these individuals struggle for the basics: food, shelter, work. Many say they turned to panhandling after health or family problems, or following the loss of a job.
[Some photo subjects declined to give their full names.]
Anthony Lindsey, 58, panhandles on Jackson Boulevard on November 9. Having been in and out of jail, he found himself homeless, jobless and unable to find work, in part because he never finished high school. “I’ve been in a rough environment all my life.” he said. “I just didn’t get a chance to, you know, finish school and do things that people with an education do, which is working.” He rides CTA trains and crashes on friends’ couches at night.
Don Ricks injured himself working as a janitor three years ago and has been living on the streets ever since. He panhandles downtown during the day and rides CTA trains at night because he fears going into a shelter. “I’m here all the time,” he says. “When it’s nice out, it’s alright,” he said. “When it gets cold, it’s hard.”
Jim recently washed his hands and showered, which is not always possible when you’re spending most of your time on the streets looking for money. He just landed a six-week construction job that will allow him to pay for a room instead of sleeping in a downtown alley.
Jim reads his Bible on the corner of Clark and Madison streets on December 3. He reads everyday while panhandling, and recently got a job. “The only solution for me is work,” he said.
Rodney Carter, 50, laughs as he shares a cigarette with a passerby outside a 7-Eleven on Lake Street, where he usually sits during the day. He worked in construction for 23 years, but has been out of work ever since he hurt both knees on a job about a year ago. A highlight of his day is crossing paths with a woman heading to work nearby, who is always friendly to him. “She’s a good friend, it’s always good to see her,” he said.
Julie seeks change and food outside a Starbucks on December 3. After unsuccessfully trying to find housing for herself and four adult children, she ended up homeless. She has been panhandling on the streets for two years, which is where she also sleeps.
Larika, 26, works on a drawing for a friend on the corner of Clark and Monroe streets. She beds down on her friend’s couch with her boyfriend and spends most days trying to make money by selling her art.
Brandon and his cat Ghost stop to visit with a friend on December 3. Brandon became homeless and unemployed in May of this year. He found Ghost a few months ago while sleeping in a park on the North Side. They have been companions ever since.
Rhonda sits on the sidewalk outside of the Chicago Board of Trade on December 1. She moved here from New York and battles alcoholism and health problems. “Some days I’ll sit here all day and barely come up with enough to eat on. …[but] I’m three years sober.”
Sid asks for change on the corner of Clark and Monroe streets on December 1. He lost his job three years ago and has been panhandling for two years, every other day. He says he can usually make about $20 a day.
Marcus Carter, 50, sits on the corner of Jackson Boulevard and Franklin Street. He has been jobless for eight years. “Some of these rich people, they come sit down and talk to you,” he said. “It makes you feel wanted, it makes you feel loved. Especially during the holidays when you actually think no one cares about you, ’cause you’re out here by yourself all day, every day, all night.”
Anthony Lindsey stands in his usual spot on Jackson Boulevard on December 1.