Homeless camp sets up next to baggage claim at Chicago's O'Hare Airport

In November, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg visited O'Hare to announce the construction of new passenger terminals, but made no mention of the concerning homelessness problem inside of the airport.

Chicago's O'Hare International Airport is now home to several homeless encampments, leaving workers and travelers worried about their safety and wondering if anything can be done about it. According to a CBS News report, "thousands" of homeless people have sought refuge from the cold inside the transportation hub.

Two O'Hare employees who are tasked with cleaning up the messes left behind by the filthy encampments spoke to the outlet, saying they feel unsafe working in these conditions.

"It's out of control. None of us feel safe,' said Vonkisha Chatman. She and Catherine Thompson are overnight custodians in Terminals 1 and 2 of the airport, and often don't have security. Both of them said they have been harassed by homeless people while just trying to do their jobs.

"They will come up behind you. This one man followed us last night," Thompson said. "From the time we get here until the time we leave in the morning, they will be here."

According to the two women, their supervisors have told them that police can't intervene unless someone is physically assaulted.

"They just tell us to be careful because it's out of their hands, like they can't do anything," Chatman said to CBS.

According to Jessica Dubar, a representative from the Haymarket Center, a substance abuse and homelessness nonprofit, the organization encountered 618 new homeless people in O'Hare in 2022, a 53 percent increase from the previous year. 

"The shelters are full," Dubar said.

Pictures on social media show people laying on the dirty floor near baggage claim, full or partially clothed, and some surrounded by trash. 

In the beginning of February, it was announced that the city of Chicago is to receive $60 million in federal funding to fight homelessness, reported the Chicago Tribune.

According to one Twitter user who posted photos of multiple people laying on the dirty floor inside the airport, the homeless have "attacked passengers, airport employees, p*ssed and sh*tted on the floor. They set off a smoke bomb one day and they've taken over bathrooms."

"They're not just 'unhoused.' A lot of them are a menace. That is now the first thing people see arriving to O'Hare," they added.

Chicago police scanner account WindyCity Weather and News posted about disturbances with the homeless at O'Hare, documenting a call received about a man smoking a cigarette near a security checkpoint with his pants down. 

O'Hare seems to have a carbon-copy response for those who took to social media to complain about the problem: "We appreciate your feedback. Safety, security and an optimal passenger experience is top priority for the CDA, and we have forwarded your message along to our security team. We apologize for any inconvenience caused and hope your next visit to ORD is more enjoyable." 

In November, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg visited O'Hare to announce the construction of new passenger terminals, but made no mention of the concerning homelessness problem inside of the airport according to ABC 7.
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