Mayor Rory Hoskins, Public Works Director John Doss and Police Chief Tom Aftanas met with Chicago Transit Officials on Sept. 20 to discuss public health and safety issues related to CTA Blue Line stops in Forest Park. Talks centered on cleanliness and how to deal with the homeless population that tends to congregate in Forest Park neighborhoods surrounding the Desplaines Blue Line stop.
Hoskins called the Desplaines stop a “gateway for Forest Park,” and pointed out the large amount of litter around the station. He also drew attention to the street along the south side of the Desplaines stop, heading toward Desplaines Avenue, that is commonly used as a place for human urination and sometimes defecation.
In fact, while the Forest Park Review was there, a man was urinating in a corner along this stretch.
“When SWAP [Sheriff’s Work Alternative Program] came in yesterday, they cleaned it up a lot,” said Hoskins. “It would be great if they could come in more regularly to help stay on top of the issue.”
SWAP is a Cook County program run through the Sheriff’s Office that provides an alternative to incarceration by allowing non-violent offenders to perform free manual labor to municipalities, government agencies and nonprofit organizations while providing experience to offenders.
At the Harlem stop, hundreds of plastic bottles and cans litter the tracks — in some places in large piles.
“I come here every day,” said Hoskins. “This is what I see every day. My neighbors come here, too, to take the train. We don’t want to see this.”
Although some of the litter is on CTA property, some is behind the fence on what is Canadian National (CN) RR property. Donald Bonds, chief transit officer of the CTA, said he would assist Forest Park in getting contact information for CN to work on cleaning up the area, and that CTA would take responsibility for cleaning up their own property along the Blue Line in Forest Park.
“The Oak Park stops are much cleaner,” said Hoskins. “I’ve got a little bit of Oak Park envy when it comes to the Blue Line stops.”
Bonds agreed that the platform at the Harlem stop is filthy and smells bad. “It’s a problem,” he said. “As quickly as we power wash, it gets dirty again.” But he said he will look into keeping it cleaner or getting it washed with greater frequency. He also said he would make sure the area around the Desplaines stop was getting cleaned more regularly, possibly with a combination of SWAP coming out more often and the CTA itself staying on top of the issue.
The issue of the homeless gathering and dispersing from the Desplaines stop is a bigger one. For Forest Park, the homeless population is problematic because people sell loose cigarettes during rush hour, beg for money, and urinate and defecate outdoors.
Laura De Castro, a senior project manager for the CTA, works with social service outreach, specifically related to the homeless population on CTA trains. She said she will reach out to Forest Park officials to figure out the best way to handle this issue, which becomes worse during the colder months when homeless individuals often turn to the CTA trains for shelter and warmth.
Aftanas said that, at night, there will often be 15-20 homeless people leaving the train at Desplaines and dispersing into the neighborhoods around the stop. In the winter, said De Castro, CTA security decides whether to allow them to stay on the trains or to force them to leave, but sending them off into the cold knowing they don’t have anywhere to go isn’t ideal.
“We really want to get them assistance,” said Bonds. “If we all work together to solve this problem, we can figure out a solution.” He’s interested in a combined effort between the CTA, state Senator Kimberly Lightford and Forest Park administrators.
De Castro said the CTA’s new security contractor will reach out to the Forest Park Police Department to forge a relationship and work together to make sure the CTA Blue Line stops in Forest Park are safe for commuters.