Makeshift homeless encampments have recently taken over Chicago's O'Hare International Airport, leading staff and travelers to voice safety concerns, WBBM-TV reported.
Two overnight airport custodians, Vonkisha Chatman and Catherine Thompson, told WBBM that they are regularly harassed by homeless individuals camping inside the airport. They called upon the city to address the growing problem.
Employees shared shocking photos of homeless people sleeping on heater vents and trashing the airport's public restrooms. The custodians explained that they are tasked with cleaning up the mess.
"It's out of control," Chatman stated.
According to the women, the terminals are not always staffed overnight by security.
"They will come up behind you. This one man followed us last night," Thompson said. "From the time we get here until the time we leave in the morning, they will be here."
After voicing safety concerns to managers, the custodians stated they were told to be vigilant and call the police.
"They just tell us to be careful because it's out of their hands," Chatman added.
The Haymarket Center, a rehabilitation center that serves Chicago's homeless community, reported encountering 618 new homeless people residing inside O'Hare in 2022 – a 53% increase from 2021 when the center encountered a total of 431 individuals.
Haymarket Center Assistant Clinical Director Jessica Dubuar explained that Chicago's designated shelters are overcrowded, and there are not enough beds to house the city's growing homeless population.
"A lot of folks don't end up at the airport because that's their goal," Dubuar said. "That is the last option they have."
Some concerned citizens took to Twitter to voice their concerns over the airport's takeover.
"I flew back to O'Hare, Terminal 3, last week. I had never seen such a homeless problem, in baggage, in the 50 years I have lived in Cook Co. It's not even that cold out! Also, aggresively hit-up with 'ya need a ride?' in baggage. It was dystopian," one Twitter user wrote.
"They set off a smoke bomb one day and they've taken over bathrooms. They're not just 'unhoused,'" another user tweeted. "That is now the first thing people see arriving to Ohare."
Chicago Department of Aviation released a statement in response to the airport's makeshift homeless encampments:
The CDA is aware of the increasing population of unsheltered individuals at O'Hare International Airport. It's a common occurrence at this airport and airports nationwide when temperatures drop in the winter months. The Department of Family and Support Services (DFSS) and their delegate agencies continue to provide 24/7 outreach to unsheltered residents at O'Hare. Outreach professionals engage with individuals experiencing homelessness at O'Hare and conduct needs assessments. If the individual chooses to accept assistance, outreach professionals connect them with appropriate services and shelters, including necessary referrals and transportation. 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.
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