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Pandemic Along With Other Conditions Are Leaving The City's Homeless Resorting To CTA Trains For Shelter

CHICAGO (CBS) -- The frigid weather, the financial toll of a pandemic, and overstrained homeless shelters. Homeless advocates say that combination is causing even more disorder for people struggling with homelessness.

CBS 2 Morning Insider Tim McNicholas shows us how that challenge is affecting the CTA.

Tim: What are some of the things you've seen on the train?

CTA Rider: It's easier to say what I haven't seen.

This is a CTA rider who won't show his face or share his full name.

"Safety has declined on the trains and I just want to try to be anonymous as possible."

But he will share the photos he took this month of people sleeping on the train next to garbage and beer cans -- some blocking multiple seats, many of them maskless and likely in need of mental health services.

"I realize they can't stop the homeless from riding, I realize they can't make everyone wear a mask but I just wanna be able to ride a train that isn't filled with tobacco smoke and filled with garbage and have people that are fighting on it."

He is far from the only one who has complained to us about those issues during the pandemic.

So, we wanted to find out why we keep hearing about it.

"You could make an educated guess that homelessness has been increasing across the United States."

Burke Patten with the nonprofit The Night Ministry says the pandemic not only took a financial toll on Americans but also forced shelters to limit their capacity.

"So the unhoused members of our community, they're looking for other places such as the train," Patten said.

The Night Ministry sets up twice a week on the Blue and Red Lines to connect with homeless people and try to get them into shelters. They also provide masks, clothing, and personal hygiene supplies.

Patten says Thursday night, the nonprofit saw 150 homeless people over the course of four hours working the Blue Line.

"150 is at the high range of what we would see normally on an evening," he said, "In addition, you have unhoused members of our community who do not wanna go into a shelter specifically because they have fear of contracting coronavirus in a congregant living facility."

The CTA says they also partner with multiple other groups to address homelessness.

As for that customer.

"It's more about the CTA's service than it is about the homeless people that are riding it."

He wants the CTA to step up their cleaning, so he doesn't see this on the morning commute.

The CTA says they clean their trains at the end of the run, but with so many people moving on and off they can't get to everything right away.

They also say they get fewer than 20 complaints per month about cleanliness.

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