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Mentally Ill Homeless Facing Harsher Reality

CHICAGO (CBS) -- You may have seen it: more homeless people in Chicago streets, airports and around city buildings.

Their numbers are going up, experts say as much as 18 percent. And it's happening as funding for mental health programs goes down, CBS 2's Kristyn Hartman reports.

Airport halls are pass-through turf for most, but they are sleeping quarters for the ranks who have nowhere else to go. Beyond the "Do Not Enter" sign is where you find them.

Some are shoeless, trying to sleep on a broken walkway or up against a wall.

And O'Hare isn't their only refuge.

"Across the city, we're seeing many, many more homeless, in virtually all neighborhoods," Thresholds CEO Tony Zipple says.

Advocates for the homeless blame the spike partly on statewide cuts to mental health funding. Thresholds alone lost $4.5 million in state funding this year.

Lutheran Social Services is working with $1 million less. Both agencies say they turn people away every day.

Numbers to back up what they're saying about the mentally ill who are homeless are tough to come by because tracking the group is tough. They do know this: People they can't help either sleep in the shadows or end up somewhere else that costs.

"It's a bad deal for taxpayers because it costs much more to treat people in jails and prisons and in and out of emergency rooms and hospitals than it does to provide good community services," Zipple said.

Things could get even worse. Mid-year funding cuts could be in the works that could reduce mental health funding even more. And that could mean less help for some of Illinois' most vulnerable.

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