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Following An Increase Over The Years, One Group Along With Law Enforcement Strive To Solve Homeless Population At O'Hare Airport

CHICAGO (CBS) -- A frustrated O'Hare worker, a homeless population that's grown in recent years, and a possible solution on the West Coast.

CBS 2 Morning Insider Tim McNicholas weaves all that together as he dives into an age-old challenge at airports.

An employee at O'Hare who asked to stay anonymous showed us these pictures of people sleeping in the airport.

"This is what welcomes visitors to Chicago," he told us. "Begging in the airport, sleeping in the terminal."

This photo from 1989 shows that's not new to O'Hare, but we wondered if the total has increased.

The city's most recent data is from a one-night count of the homeless which found 236 people at the airport in January 2020 up from 162 in 2019.

"COVID has added extra complicating layers."

Jessica Dubuar works with the Haymarket Center, a group that's partnered with the city for 30 years to get homeless people at O'Hare whatever help they need -- including shelters and treatment.

The group counts every encounter they have with a homeless person at O'Hare.

"We did track, and we saw an increase in the number we had in 2020, greater than we had before," she said.

Haymarket says those encounters are still more frequent than pre-pandemic, but they have started to drop from that 2020 peak.

"Homelessness is an issue in Chicago and has been an ongoing situation for years and years. And I think the pandemic has just contributed to that," Dubuar said.

And it's an issue that's not unique to O'Hare.

At LAX, a small team of plain-clothes police officers works with a mental health clinician and a homeless outreach group.

Airport police chief Cecil Rhambo calls it the Crisis Intervention Team.

"They deal with dignity, with compassion, but we also have some rules we have to comply to because of safety reasons."

He says the approach has helped place 100 people into housing over the past two years.

LAX says in the annual count of Los Angeles' homeless population, done this month, police counted 10 people inside the airport.

"That number has dramatically dropped," Rhambo said. "I've been here about two and a half years."

"When I came here we had about 100 to 120 folks kinda living, hanging out, dwelling in the airport here."

The Chicago Department of Aviation says Chicago faces unique challenges compared to LA and other warmer cities. For example, O'Hare tends to see more homeless people in frigid temperatures, and it's also easily accessible through the Blue Line.

Chicago recently did another one-night homeless count, but they couldn't provide the totals yet for O'Hare or citywide.

The city says they also work with law enforcement to address trespassing.

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