A makeshift squatters camp has found a home in Forest Park, tucked behind shrubs and along a busy stretch of train tracks and adjacent to the Blue Line and the Eisenhower.
Now the Forest Park Police Department is working with the CSX rail corporation to clean up the site that has been used, no one knows for exactly how long, as a sleeping place and trash dump by homeless settlers.
The area, which stretches from Harlem Avenue to Circle Avenue along the south wall of the highway’s concrete canyon, is covered with large trash-piles consisting of everything from pieces of lumber to drug paraphernalia.
As of Friday, in the enclosed portion of the track area there were several chairs, blankets, and other pieces of tattered furniture, apparently set up by homeless people who have been sleeping along the railroad.
The Review was first informed of the situation in June by a letter-writer who complained of the smelly mess, but it is unclear how long the problem has existed.
Forest Park Police Chief James Ryan said that the settlement is an eyesore as well as a public safety hazard.
“How’s this going to impact the overall perception that people have of Forest Park?,” he asked.
Sgt. Mike Murphy of the Forest Park Police Department was assigned to the case last week, and found 4 to 6 settlers along the track on Tuesday, August 9.
Along with an officer from CSX, Murphy warned the settlers that if they had not left by Saturday, they would be subject to arrest for trespassing. Ryan said the settlers had been referred to local social service agencies and homeless shelters including PADS (Public Action to Deliver Shelter), which operates a support center a block away from the CTA stop at St. Bernardine’s Church.
Though the PADS shelter is closed for the summer, Lynda Schueler, executive director of West Suburban PADS, said the support center would be able to refer those who come for assistance to other shelters that can provide them with housing.
If the homeless do return to the tracks, the village does not have the authority to arrest them since the land is technically CSX’s property, but it can detain them until a CSX officer arrives.
Ryan said last week that CSX had agreed to remove the shrubbery that had concealed the area, allowing settlers to remain out of plain sight.
“If we leave conditions as they are today, (the homeless) can just move back in a week,” he said.
Murphy said that when he returned to the site for a second inspection on Monday, he found most of the furniture used by the settlers gone, but the vegetation and trash piles still in place. He said he sent an e-mail to CSX restating the request that the area be cleared.
Though Murphy said he hopes CSX will get to work on the matter shortly, he admitted that a delay is possible since the CSX officer assigned to the area has a jurisdiction of 17 counties.
Still, he said, CSX would be wise to take their responsibilities seriously since the company would be subject to litigation should any injuries occur as a result of the mess or crimes committed by the homeless.
“We’re hoping to find someone out there in the next day or two ” if not we’ll try to utilize our resources, but we’d prefer not to have to do that,” said Murphy.
Ryan noted that homelessness and unemployment often lead to crimes including theft and panhandling, which has often been reported in areas surrounding the CTA station.
“The panhandling (near the station) is directly related, I’m sure,” he said. “It’s a nuisance to our residents and the people that pass through the community. In Forest Park we have zero tolerance for panhandlers and we arrest them immediately,” he said.
Still, Ryan admitted that the village might have been a bit late in enforcing its policies in this particular instance.
“We should have probably monitored it more closely than it has been,” he said.