Monday, January 10, 2011
A note from Cassandra Clegg, executive producer of this mini-documentary and a senior journalism student at Roosevelt:
“For the past three years, I’ve passed the homeless on the streets of Chicago as part of my daily routine. I’ve often wondered about what life was like for those nameless individuals before their days of living on the street. Especially in the winter,
Wednesday, September 30, 2009
Note: If video player fails to load properly, simply click here
Friday, June 26, 2009
For more Multimedia, click on any of the links below:
When the City Turns Cold: Healthcare for the Homeless
When the City Turns Cold: Breakthrough Urban Ministries
When the City Turns Cold: Man on the Streets
Against the backdrop of a national mortgage crisis and rising home foreclosures, increasing joblessness and poverty, and the lingering misperception of homelessness in America as being mostly a portrait of indigent men, we examine homelessness in Chicago. The objective over the spring/winter semester was to take a literary and microscopic look at homelessness during the most brutal months of the year here—winter.
In addition to the written narrative, the student journalists also sought to document through the use of digital media, the voices and faces of those most affected and those working on the frontlines to combat homelessness and hunger as well as those who provide a lifeline.
To that end, our stories as presented here, take the form of written narrative, as well as a collective multimedia project. Additionally, posted are podcasts by students on their reflections of covering the story, an American story, one that we cannot afford to ignore, one that is crystalized by the reporting, writing and storytelling of these student journalists.
I have never been homeless. I’ve always had a warm bed to sleep in and food waiting in my refrigerator for me whenever I want it. But, living in Chicago over the past two years, I’ve seen my fair share of homeless people. People I walk past without giving them a second thought.
Like so many living here in Chicago, I’ve become almost immune to their existence. I walk right past them downtown on my way to and from class, without the courage to look them in the eye as they jingle their paper cups and create the sound of spare change.
But tonight, walking the streets around Michigan Avenue, I wondered—what would I do if I was homeless? How would it feel to be homeless in one of the biggest cities of the world?
Tuesday, June 9, 2009
By Morgan Amos
The change in a homeless man’s cup clicks back and forth as he says “hey, pretty lady, can you spare some change?”
The sun blares down on individuals' faces as they pass him by as he sits on a square and gravel stoop that is filled with cigarette butts, soil, and dirt along Michigan and Congress.
The aroma of hazel nut coffee and an array of baked goods drift from the Dunkin Doughnuts shop right along Michigan Avenue. The smell is suddenly over shadowed by the smell of cigarette smoke, thanks to a man that walks past me as I passed the Dunkin Doughnuts.
On this day, people are out and about. Making coffee stops and checking out the latest clothes' sales. Some walk along Michigan listening to their iPods, while others over in Millennium Park seem to be enjoying the weather.
As I watch this, I am on my way to class at the Gage building. What amazes me about what I am seeing is that everybody around me does not seem to pay attention to what is going on around them. It is as if they are in their own world. I guess I pay close attention to detail. For me this is like any other day.
As I continue my stroll, I noticed two guys standing a few feet apart from one another with the color green on, trying to get people as they walked by them interested in donating to Green Peace. The two men seem to get a few people to stop, but none are willing to donate. I try my best to get pass them as I don’t feel right giving out my information to a stranger, but I feel bad because it is supposed to be for a good cause.
What was the homeless man's reason for asking for change, I wonder.
Was it to buy some food?
Whatever it was this much I know, few seem to not want to donate, but I do. I feel that if it was me I would want someone to help me. Knowing that I can make a homeless person feel a little bit better if even for a second by giving them change makes me feel good inside.
Monday, June 1, 2009
When Studs Terkel passed away last October, I attended a memorial service put on by his friends at the Community Media Workshop. Rick Kogan, who wrote the obituary for Terkel that appeared in the Tribune, spoke about what Studs taught him.
“Because of him,” he said, “I remember the bus driver who takes me to work, or the kid that delivers the papers.” At Kogan’s job, he would talk to politicians and business leaders, but because of Studs, he would remember ordinary people’s concerns and consider their own thoughts as equal to those in the moneyed halls.
Homeless people are the sort that people would prefer to not pay attention to. They see them, standing on street corners, or kneeling on slabs of cardboard by parking lot exits, or sitting in a wheelchair with a McDonald’s large cup in one hand, singing the blues to no one in particular.
When people pass, the homeless speak, but aren’t heard. When people pass, a homeless woman underneath an El station, she’ll ask, “Help the homeless, sir,” and only a few will put change in her cup. Or the man on Michigan and Monroe who mumbles “God bless yuh,” to everyone who passes—whether they give him change or not.
Some homeless people don’t speak at all, but shake their cups of change and let the intersection they sit at ring with the sound of tossed coins. It’s no Salvation Army bell that clangs just one note loudly and clearly. But it is the same call to help those in need. And most people don’t listen.
In India, beggars need not make a sound. Most of the ones I encountered in Bangalore where I studied abroad in summer 2007, many of them children, came up to me and put their hands to their mouths and then stretched them out for rupees. They’d look at me and communicate their need without saying a word, without making a sound.
Here, those in need make a sound, and they still aren’t heard by those with a little to spare.
“They’ll spend it on addictions,” they say.
“I give to charity,” they say.
“They should just get a job like the rest of us,” they say.
There are more important immediate concerns for them, their own job, or their own home. But seeing the invisible and hearing the voiceless are abilities that anyone can possess.
At the corner of Madison and Dearborn, a mother and a daughter stood asking for money. A yellowed Starbucks coffee cup held outstretched, two small voices spilled out into the brisk evening air.
“Please spare some change to help me and my daughter,” the older woman said as her eyes moved to look a few inches to her left and at least four inches below.
Wednesday, May 27, 2009
The muffled sound of a hand-drill hitting the gums and the soft hum of a buffer vibrating against enamel fills a sterile office on a February morning, where Dr. Esther Lopez is on duty.
These are the common sounds of an everyday dentist’s office. Except this wasn’t just another dentist’s office, and the patients are not your average clean-teeth seekers.
In fact, the doctor running the show is far from a veteran of the dental profession.
Dr. Lopez is director of the dental clinic at Goldie’s Place, a support center committed to helping homeless people find employment and creating healthy smiles that they say can make all the difference.“Having a good smile is like putting your best foot forward,” said Lopez, of Goldie’s Place, at 5705 North Lincoln Ave. “People who need that support can find it at Goldie’s Place.”
On a Saturday morning in the middle of February, Lopez is helping to do just that for people who otherwise wouldn’t have the opportunity.
While working on her doctorate in dentistry and master’s degree in public health at the University of Illinois-Chicago (UIC), Lopez, who graduated in May, was approached by her mentor and associate dean for Prevention and Public Health Sciences, Dr. Caswell Evans, to help start a student-run dental clinic.
“Esther was excited from the beginning,” said Evans, 65, a practicing public health dentist for over 35 years.
So, in 2007, Lopez and fellow student, Chernara Baker held town hall meetings to gauge the interest of dental students in starting a clinic that is staffed and managed by students. The response was overwhelming.
"When we saw how many students wanted to sharpen their skills and use their public health background, we immediately began to do research,” Lopez recalled.
Lopez said the biggest challenge she faced was the lack of dental clinics like the one created at Goldie’s Place. Lopez had little to base her research simply because there are very few public dental clinics.
"There are medical clinics out there, numerous ones,” Lopez said. “But dental clinics are rare because they require more than just one-on-one consultation; they require procedures and extensive equipment for nearly every visit.”
In October, just five months after graduating from dental school, Lopez was named director of the dental clinic. She spends about 15 hours a week working on the clinic from Goldie’s Place’s Lincoln Square location. That doesn’t include the Saturday sessions she spends with students and patients.
The student-run clinic is still in its pilot program. There have been five student sessions since Lopez was named director.
The birth of inspiration
Raised in Stone Park, Ill., Lopez did her undergraduate work at DePaul University before attending UIC for dentistry and public health. She initially wanted to pursue a medical degree, but says she changed her mind after seeing the lack of options available for people needing affordable dental care.
“From early on, I knew my passion was public health,” Lopez said. “I just didn’t know in what capacity.”
When Lopez was 11, her mother was diagnosed with leukemia and she subsequently lost her father to cardiovascular disease while in dentistry school.
“When my parents were ill, I had to interpret,” Lopez said. “Seeing them struggle with finding care and finding the funds to pay for that care was traumatizing.”
Lopez calls her experience caring for her ill parents as inspiration for working in public health and helping to “eliminate medical care disparity.”
Her passion for helping others is what Dr. Evans said is key in her role as a public health leader.
“She [Esther] is young, but she has fresh ideas to bring to the table,” Evans said. “There’s not just a concern for dental health there, but a concern for medical and dental care to be a right, not a privilege.”
As Lopez smilingly greets the student dentists and patients huddled into the workspace, one might never guess that she’s new to being a dentist, new to being a clinic director and new to being a mom.
Lopez is mom to five-month-old Nathaniel.
Nathaniel’s presence at the dental clinic is not an uncommon sight. Neither is Lopez’s brother-in-law, Christian Lopez, an undergraduate student at Harold Washington College.
“Christian has been helping me out since we started the pilot program,” Lopez said. Sometimes he is helping out by talking to the clinic’s Spanish-speaking patients and at other times is “helping take care of Nathaniel while he’s here,” Lopez said.
Christian Lopez said he’s grown accustomed to what Lopez calls her “wackiness” for helping others.
“I think she’s [Esther] been helping people and volunteering since I met her,” he added. “Not just at Goldie’s Place, but everywhere.”
Standing nearby, Lopez blushed, adding that she’s been known to rope people into helping with the clinic and doing community service.
“It’s about doing something for those that are less fortunate— and that can range from doing dental work to donating food to a family,” she said.
Sometimes it’s easy to forget that the patients she’s treating are homeless because none fit the Hollywood” stereotype of homelessness, Lopez said. Some do suffer from mental illness, she said, but that doesn’t change the fact that they are all there to receive oral health care.
"Most the time people just want you to listen to them and it’s important that we be patient with our patients,” Lopez said. “Sometimes we have to think out of the box and see how we can help the patients when they – and us – don’t have the money.”
Johanna Dalton, 62, executive director of Goldie’s Place, cited Lopez’s poise under pressure as one of the reasons behind asking her to step up as clinical director.
“She’s so eloquent in all circumstances, whether she’s with a patient or at a fundraising event trying to raise money for the clinic,” Dalton said.
Dalton said that only most of the money, around 65 percent, for the clinic and other services offered at Goldie’s Place come from fundraising, grants, donations and corporate sponsorship.
“There has never been a moment when Esther has said ‘we can’t afford this,’” Dalton said.
“When she sees that a patient may need a procedure that we can’t do, she finds a way to get it done and finds funding for it.”
Lopez said it can take months and even a year to get the money needed to help a patient with a specific problem.
Dr. William Bjork, 53, the founding dentist at Goldie’s Place, was instrumental in getting UIC students involved in the clinic. After practicing dentistry for 15 years, Bjork decided to follow through on his dream to practice dentistry without profit. He opened Goldie’s Place’s clinic in 1997. And Dr. Lopez has become a key to their success.
“She’s [Esther] helping make a difference in a way that I haven’t seen before – at least in dentistry,” Bjork said.
Inside a third-floor apartment, tucked in the back, a group of volunteers gather every Saturday in a kitchen to cook donated food. The food is later moved to a different location and served to anyone who wants some. It is not a soup kitchen, nor is it a Meals on Wheels program.
The group, at its core, is the coming together of people with common beliefs and heart to use their time to make both a tangible statement of their beliefs. Among them: That they should help feed those in need.
The local group happens to be just one chapter of the international organization Food Not Bombs, or FNB,an organization that according to its mission statement, “believe[s] that food is a basic human right and no one should go hungry when so much food is wasted every day.”
The group takes food that would otherwise be thrown away by food outlets—restaurants and stores—and cooks and serves it to those in the community. The food is all vegetarian. Though the organization cooks food, FNB, true to its name, is essentially an anti-war protest, its organizers say.
“Technically, it’s a war protest,” said Travis Clark, 27, a volunteer.
But regardless of belief systems and politics, one chapter of the national group here says it feeds somewhere around 50 people a week.
“We don’t like the system,” said Mark Saulys, another volunteer with the group. “And we’d like to do something about it, so we do something about it by offering something else.”
“We want everybody in the world to become a Food Not Bombs volunteer,” he added.
Political agendas aside, the group says it makes good use of the 50 percent of food—at least that portion it receives—that it contends is wasted every year in the United States.
The organization began in 1980 in Cambridge, Mass., as a result of the efforts of anti-nuclear activists and is dedicated to “nonviolent social change,” according to the group’s published literature. And the group boasts hundreds of different chapters in the world today, three of which are located in Chicago, a volunteer here said.
Using food that would otherwise go to waste allows FNB to get its message across while also using what seems to be a simple concept to try and alleviate hunger.
The donation of food came from a Whole Foods store and included mashed sweet potatoes, beans and rice, a salad mix and stir fry.
Jenny Abrahamian, 28, a FNB Chicago volunteer for a little over a year, worked at mashing the sweet potatoes as fellow volunteers also prepared food. Despite FNB’s political leanings, Abrahamian doesn’t like to think of FNB coming into a community and peddling its beliefs, which she contends is what some faith-based soup kitchens sometimes do.
“We try to kind of bring people together...We’re trying to be part of the community and not just coming in and giving charity to people,” she said.
She also said that volunteers eat with those they serve, which creates more of a community feel.
Clark, who stood by the stove doing more observing than actual cooking recently, said the group’s approach to feeding those in need is more about dignity—something he believes one can’t get from a soup kitchen.
“You go there and people have an agenda. They want to get you on board with what they believe or…make themselves feel good because they’re working at a soup kitchen,” Clark said.
Because the volunteers eat and mingle with the patrons at FNB, there is a sort of equality between the two groups. Clark said that the food FNB makes also helps him.
“I’m supported by it, too. It helps me to live,” he said.
Other volunteers agreed.
“We’re poor, too. We’re just sharing it,” said Saulys, 29, who minutes earlier debated whether a can of black beans might contain botulism. Clark had assured Saulys that botulism was a hidden killer.
But Saulys, not one to waste good food, ate the beans anyway. He said the beans tasted fine.
‘Making a Spectacle’
A red wooden sign with large painted yellow bubble letters read, “Free Food” on the top and “Food Not Bombs” on the bottom. The sign welcomed those on the street into the Rumble Arts Center, at 3413 W. North Ave..
Inside the Rumble Arts Center, families assembled in two lines to take part in the food donation. Boxes of apples sat towards the back of the room, somewhat hidden by a mob of people dressed in winter gear. The cooked food was spread on a table near the front. Volunteers watched as the 50 or so people waited for their share of the pantry food, which is also provided by FNB.
Some families came equipped with their own shopping carts, filled with bags of food.
“Yams? You shouldn’t have,” one volunteer says,
After the families collect food from the boxes, some partake of the hot meal and stand around the room quickly eating. A father feds his son. Another man with a brown cap and a plaid gray jacket rubbed his eyes as he stood with his shopping cart. Forks clinked against the ceramic plates.
Abrahamian said that normally the food is served outside, but winter is just too harsh in the Chicago area to serve outside. When it’s warmer outside, the group usually sets the food up on a picnic bench. By holding the event outside, the group hopes people will notice what they’re doing.
“Part of the whole thing is making a spectacle,” she said.
“Technically, it’s a war protest,” said Clark of serving food as he walked towards the door at Rumble Arts Center.
A protest that the group says feeds somewhere around 50 people a week at just this one local chapter.
“We don’t like the system. And we’d like to do something about it, so we do something about it by offering something else,” said Saulys. “We want everybody in the world to become a Food Not Bombs volunteer.”
Her charcoal hair framed her face in a bob that just reached her shoulders. Her tennis shoes had various colors, but looked worn, as if they have endured several Midwest winters. They belong to Naomi Tankersley, whose job as a career specialist for the homeless, in some ways, is to help provide a little inspiration.
In fact, Tankersley, 25, works at Inspiration Corporation, a Chicago-based organization that helps those in need across the city.The organization’s mission: to help “people who are affected by homelessness and poverty to improve their lives…through the provision of social services, employment training and placement, and housing.”
Tankersley, with a grass-colored bandana hung loosely around her neck, said she focuses more on helping the homeless prepare themselves for and also find jobs, adding that unemployment and homelessness often have a cause and effect relationship.
Tankersley started her career just two hours away from Chicago in South Bend, Ind., at the Center For the Homeless—which is not a homeless shelter but a place for the homeless to seek services in South Bend—as an intern. She later moved to Chicago and happened to find the job at Inspiration Corporation online. She has worked at Inspiration for nearly a year.
“From my experiences, I knew that it would match up pretty well,” Tankersley said.
Tankersley also has experience with poverty that she didn’t find working with the homeless in South Bend and at Inspiration. Though she was not homeless herself, as a child growing up in a violent neighborhood in South Bend, her family faced some difficult times that she says have impacted her career choices greatly.
Tankersley’s parents divorced before she was out of diapers and her mother was left to raise three small children alone. To make ends meet, her mother rented out part of their house and performed manual labor, Tankersley recalled. Despite her mother’s hard work, the family still needed government aid. Tankersley said if it wasn’t for her grandmother moving in with them to help out, her family may have ended up on the street.
She recalls as a child her mother often picking up people on the side of the road who were carrying groceries and driving them to their destination, even if the destination was out of the way. Watching her mother work so hard and give to so many had a lasting effect.
In her current position, Tankersley helps those in need to create resumes or rework already existing resumes and create goals for themselves. She also helps her clients create a work plan so they can figure out exactly what they want to do career wise. Tankersley said she is not responsible for finding specific jobs for her clients. In fact, most people who come in to see her usually find their own jobs. She’s just there to help assist them in whatever way she can in that process.
The most rewarding part of her job?
“I know it sounds kind of cliché, but really, actually seeing people accomplish their goals,” said Tankersley.
She said one has to have a certain type of toughness in her line of work. But it does not appear that she has not allowed her toughness to destroy her empathy for her clients.
“I would say most of, if not all of our population, has experienced a serious amount of trauma in their lives, and when people relay that kind of trauma to you, you vicariously experience trauma,” Tankersley said.
“I’ve gone home and cried about things and I’m not necessarily a crier. People really do have amazing survival stories.”
One of Tankersley’s coworkers, Emily Hunt, a case manager at Inspiration Corporation, said Tankersley’s compassion and patience are two of her best qualities that help her succeed at her job.
“She’s always very polite and very compassionate when she meets with each person,” Hunt said. She added that Tankersley doesn’t treat her clients differently just because they may be worse off than another client.
Tankersley typically starts her work day by walking down the bright yellow lighted hallways of the center, at 4554 N. Broadway Ave., Suite 207, to the kitchen, where she greets the morning kitchen assistants. Inspiration Corporation also has a branch located on the city’s South Side that Tankersley sometimes visits, in addition to the Broadway branch.
In the time she has worked with the homeless, Tankersley says she has come to believe several policy changes and social improvements need to be made locally and nationally to effectively deal with homelessness in America. Among them are improving and empowering families on the one level and on another, improving housing and lending policies.
Tankersley also says that racism is a big factor in homelessness. Chicago’s history, she said, has had segregation written all over it, and has led to poor housing policies for blacks.
“The poorest people live in the worst conditions and usually that means you’re black and living on the Southside,” she said.
Despite the challenges of her job and the difficult situations she says she encounters helping those in need, who often come to her in dire circumstances, Tankersley still approaches each day as an opportunity to make a difference. Why?
“Because I care,” she said.