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Hundreds Fan Across Chicago to Count the City's Homeless

By Tanveer Ali | January 23, 2015 6:17am
 A makeshift bed under Lower Wacker Drive
A makeshift bed under Lower Wacker Drive
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DNAinfo/Tanveer Ali

EAST GARFIELD PARK — Hundreds of people fanned out around the city Thursday night to ask Chicago's homeless about their living situations.

More than 450 people were expected to go around the city and count the number of people living on the streets or in public places, a requirement for Chicago to get federal funding to address issues related to homelessness.

The 2014 count was conducted in the midst of the notorious polar vortex. That count found a total of 6,294 homeless people in Chicago. Most of those were in shelters, but 935 were on the street or in public places.

The weather was only slightly below freezing Thursday night and into Friday morning when this year's count took place. 

"We'd like to see more than a 5 percent drop this year," said John Pfeiffer, the first deputy commissioner of the Department of Family and Support Services.

During the count, teams of four volunteers cover swaths of the city, especially certain areas known for homeless populations, including around Lower Wacker Drive, under viaducts and around the O'Hare Blue Line station.

At a minimum, the groups were expected to tally the number of homeless people they come across.

When possible, the teams also asked individuals to take a survey that includes questions like:

• "Is this your first time being homeless?"

• "Are you a victim of domestic violence?"

• "Have you ever served in the U.S. military?"

Together, the headcount and the survey help the city decide where to spend its homelessness funding, officials said.

The city made a specific effort with this year's count trying to understand how younger homeless people lost their homes. In the 2014 count, children made up a third of the homeless population.

The results from this year's count won't be released until this summer.

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