Into the night, Alliance counts the homeless
When she understood the people in her coffee shop were helping the homeless in Glenview, relief came to Lucy Burke’s face and she started to cry.
“He’s a nice man. I’m the only one here, and he’s my guardian angel,” said Burke, owner of The Glen TLC Café at North Metra Train Station, pointing to a van in the outdoor parking lot.
She opens the coffee snack counter for Chicago commuters at predawn 5 a.m.
“He sleeps in the van every night. What would Jesus say if I didn’t treat him well. I pray for him that he finds a home,” said Burke, adding she’s known the man for three years.
She also said several times a year, homeless runaway teenagers find shelter in the train station.
For three days last week, Jan. 24-26, the Alliance to End Homelessness in Suburban Cook County ventured out into the night to count the unsheltered homeless.
Every two years the social service agency headquartered in Westchester, trains dozens of volunteers to register the unsheltered homeless in the north, northwest, west and south suburbs.
They seek street people in well-known homeless haunts — stairwells, tucked under expressway bridges, empty buildings and most often Metra train stations across the suburbs.
Often, the volunteers will ask police officers on night patrol, hospital emergency room receptionists and ticket agents at train stations for whereabouts of the homeless.
On rounds in Glenview one night, the volunteers learned from a police officer that Our Lady of Perpetual Help church took in the homeless for a night’s stay.
The survey count qualifies the Alliance and other agencies to receive millions in funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Because of the 9-degree temperature, the volunteers’ first night only recorded the man at the Metra Station.
Yet, the next night they found a man taking advantage of the heated Metra Station in Morton Grove on Lehigh Avenue, but no one at the Northbrook station on both nights.
Volunteers surveying the northwest suburbs were deployed from Catholic Charities in Des Plaines.
During the first two nights, they found 24 unsheltered homeless in 20 villages.
The count also included people lodging in northwest suburban homeless shelters.
“With inclement weather we hope a big portion of people are staying shelters,” said Jennifer Hill, executive director of the Alliance to End Homelessness.
Corinne Steimer, a social worker for Hines Veterans Administration Hospital in Maywood, led the northwest suburban team.
She said the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, along with the Veteran Affairs Supportive Housing program (HUD¬-VASH) “has made great strides for our vets,” but homelessness remained a problem for them.
“Many still have a hard time transitioning into jobs because of post-traumatic stress disorders. They end up homeless,” said Steimer, of Romeoville.
Tracy Banks, also a social worker at Hines, said veterans have a significantly higher percentage of homeless than the general population.
“It’s the idea of men and women who served our country now sleeping on the streets is what we’re trying to correct,” said Banks, of Chicago.
Steve Girten was volunteering for the first time.
“I’m interested in helping people who have no where to live find homes. It’s a good cause and I know some homeless people,” said Girten, a Skokie resident.
Count results will be published within four to five months, Hill said.