Police District seeks community partnerships, better ways to engage with the homeless
by BRIAN NADIG
The 16th (Jefferson Park) District will be appointing an affinity officer who will be exploring better ways for the police to engage with the homeless.
“This is a community issue, but we have to figure out our role in this,” community policing sergeant Jeff Aaron said at the district’s Oct. 27 virtual meeting on homelessness. “Nothing gets done without community involvement.”
Police officials said that the district’s focus will not be a criminal approach to homelessness but one of helping to provide resources. “That will be the global position of the 16th District going forward, and this is the priority of the Chicago Police Department,” Captain Mike Barz said.
Aaron said that the police will be seeking partnerships with social agencies and community groups to provide the resources and training needed to effectively connect with the homeless.
Officers should be getting to know the area’s homeless, including those who are at the warming center at the district station, 5151 N. Milwaukee Ave., Aaron said. “ What can we do to better assist them when they are right in front of us,” he said.
Concerns were raised at the meeting that the homeless are often the victims of crimes but that they are afraid to report the incident due to previous experiences with police.
Barz said that one of the roles of the affinity officer will be to build trust with the homeless and “be the voice of the voiceless.”
Also at the meeting, a manger of a store near Belmont and Central avenues said that customers are harassed by the homeless who are living on the sidewalk and that substance abuse among the homeless is a problem in the area’s shopping district.
It also was reported that homeless individuals who use the Jefferson Park Library, 5363 W. Lawrence Ave., as a warming center are asked to leave, in accordance with library system rules, if a body odor complaint is made but that there are few, if any, options in the community for the homeless to shower or wash their clothes.
Recommendations were made that a vacant storefront that has a full bathroom facility or a park fieldhouse could be made available on certain days for the homeless, with donated clothes being offered.
At the meeting, State Representative Lindsey LaPointe (D-19) referenced a recent Chicago Tribune article which outlined the overall lack of public restroom facilities in Chicago. LaPointe has been advocating for a public restroom at the Jefferson Park CTA Terminal, 4917 N. Milwaukee Ave.
LaPointe said that building trust with homeless individuals and getting them to accept help can be a challenging task due to the limited amount of resources and possible health issues, such as addiction.
LaPointe said that when she worked as a homeless outreach worker, it was “amazing” anytime housing could be found for an individual in need.
The Jefferson Park Working Group on Homelessness will hold a “Housing Day” from 2 to 6 p.m. Friday, Oct. 29, at the CTA terminal. A variety of mental heath support and housing resources, including access to housing waitlists, will be available. For more information, contact the group at Jeffparkwgoh@gmail.com