We see the homeless in the warmer months, sometimes giving them change, a dollar or maybe a granola bar left uneaten. Mostly, however, they are ignored, their presence resented or the mere sight of them wished away. Some people go as far as insulting panhandlers by teasing them with money or verbally abusing them—see this YouTube video of a Logan Square homeless man named Bud talk about his experience on our neighborhood’s streets.
Now that temperatures have dipped below freezing, with nightly lows sometimes in the teens—let’s also not forget about that pesky wind-chill—have you noticed that the homeless are all but out of sight? Where do the rest of the homeless go when it’s dangerous to be exposed to winter weather without a dedicated shelter or warming center in Logan Square? And how do they purchase food if they’re not panhandling and with the limited food pantry options here?
Logan Square Non-Profits Aid Homeless
Gene Pellegrene is a Logan Square resident and founder of Care Bags who puts together bags of food and other donated items for the homeless. This isn’t the first time Pellegrene’s talked to LoganSquarist, having done a Q&A with us in 2013 soon after his project got off the ground.
Bud’s YouTube interview was done for Pellegrene’s website and posted to raise awareness on the homeless situation and give the good-hearted folks in Logan Square the tools to help those who need assistance.
“I wanted to do something more personal than just dropping off donations at shelters or into drop-boxes,” Pellegrene says.
What might surprise some (but shouldn’t) is that Pellegrene’s project is largely funded out of his own pocket. He says he holds an annual fundraiser, and a clothing drive, that get between 60-70 percent of his funding for the year, but the rest comes from his earnings as owner of painting company, Artist Painters.
After speaking with Pellegrene, turns out the reason Logan Square residents don’t see the homeless as often during the winter is that they simply aren’t panhandling as much as they can in warmer weather. During the day they’ll go to fast-food restaurants that will serve them and not kick them out right away, or take rides on public transportation to keep from the elements. At night those places under bridges, in alleys or near churches are still occupied as they sleep insulated under layers of clothing and something like a tarp or plastic bags to protect from the wind.
Lissette Castaneda of Logan Square’s Center of Changing Lives agrees that the number of homeless doesn’t change in the neighborhood depending on the weather. She says some without homes tap into a network that might allow them to stay in places for the short term, or when the weather dips into those fatal temperatures.
Although the CCL’s shelter was closed in 2012, it still offers the homeless assistance, but for the long term.
“People can walk in and we work with them to be stable when they want to get back on their feet,” Castaneda says. “We also go to area shelters to find those people who are looking for the help we can give.”
Food Pantries Available in the Neighborhood
Other resources for those in need are the Chicago Hope Food Pantry (2501 N. Kedzie Ave.; open Monday 5-7 pm and Thursday 10 am-12 pm), Elijah’s Pantry at St. Luke’s Lutheran Church (2649 N. Francisco Ave.; open Tuesday and Thursday 10-11:30 am) and the Wednesday evening community meal at 5 pm, also at St. Luke’s.
While thoughts like sad, insurmountable, painful or not-my-problem come to mind over the homeless situation in Logan Square, just because the homeless aren’t as visible right now, it doesn’t mean they’re not around. If you’re in a position to help but don’t want to, there are individuals and organizations helping others and trying to lead by example. If, however, an itch to help the less fortunate (whether volunteering, donating funds or food/clothing) arises and needs to be scratched, all it takes a small effort and a little bit of time. Even the smallest gestures can have a lasting impact.
Pellegrene isn’t looking for pats on the back or praise for his work; his motives appear sincerely altruistic. He hopes that his work appeals to the good nature in others, which might catalyze action within those individuals.
“Our capacity for kindness keeps expanding the more we practice it,” Pellegrene says. “Exercising empathy for others [in need] really does make us better people.”
Photo: Gabriel Skvor