For Evanston’s Homeless, Stores Offer Warm Refuge

Melissa Kreitner

By Melissa KreitnerThe Daily Northwestern

Aaron Morrison bounces lightly up and down outside of CVS Pharmacy, trying to stay warm.

“Have a nice day, ma’am,” he says to passersby.

An Evanston city ordinance passed in 2001 prevents panhandlers from asking people for money.

Jingling a coffee cup appears to be the most popular alternative, but when the temperatures fall too low, Morrison, like many homeless people and panhandlers, finds shelter in Evanston businesses.

With temperatures in the negatives, Morrison is wearing a puffy ski jacket, a knit hat, mittens and work boots, but he was looking for something more.

“I’m standing here thinking about these hand warmers at Uncle Dan’s right now,” Morrison said.

Morrison frequents Burger King, 1740 Orrington Ave., but he said the staff kicks him out after a second refill.

If they buy something, the homeless can stay for 45 minutes, as long as they are not sleeping or bothering people, Burger King Manager Jay Darshane said.

To prevent panhandlers from staying at Burger King, the store has implemented a new policy: two warning strikes and on the third strike, he calls the police. This approach has helped, Darshane said.

CVS Assistant Manager, Karl Johnson, sees the panhandlers as “more of a nuisance.” But the store, 1711 Sherman Ave., has given one homeless man odd jobs. Johnson said that he was the first homeless person to come in and ask for work. The man washed the store’s windows during the summer.

Linda Moody has worked at Borders for the past two years, but she wasn’t employed.

Standing in the vestibule of Borders, Moody said she has had a positive experience selling StreetWise for the past two years.

“People are nice about it,” Moody said. “I get to know some of the people real well. They recognize me.”

The paper, created to help get people off the street, serves as a way for homeless people to earn money while they are looking for jobs.

Moody, who has held numerous jobs before, sees this as a transitional stage. She has been taking computer classes at the unemployment office and at a local church. Moody is not homeless but uses the money earned to ride the El back to her home in Rogers Park.

Morrison said he tried to go to Hilda’s Place, a transitional shelter at 1458 Chicago Ave., but that there is a waiting list.

“Some nights I just ride the El back and forth,” Morrison said.

When Moody gets too cold standing outside, she steps inside the entryway of Borders but keeps to herself.

Moody said that the store employees are very nice to her.

At Barnes & Noble the homeless warm up with a good book. Although they steer clear of the cafe, where signs tell non-customers to find somewhere else to sit, they can be found browsing through books or talking quietly to one another.

Morrison said the store employees don’t bother him much. But when there are too many homeless people gathering, the employees escort the browsers out.

“I normally try to hide during the day time and come out(side) after six,” he said.

Whether the businesses approve or not, they often provide that daytime shelter. Then Morrison steps out onto the streets to catch the evening shopping crowd as he shakes his Seattle’s Best paper cup.

Reach Melissa Kreitner at [email protected]