Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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Homeless struggle against Evanston’s extremes in winter

Alan Hulay sits hunched over at a secluded carrel in the back of the Evanston Public Library. There’s an overstuffed backpack to his right and a moderately sized stack of books to his left. He isn’t reading.

As one of an estimated 100 homeless people in Evanston, the 42-year-old is trying to find shelter from last weekend’s brutal cold.

“It’s like, hell man,” Hulay said. “You’re cold. You ain’t got no place to go.”

Daytime thermometers peaked at a measly 4 degrees Saturday, while overnight wind chills dipped below minus 20 degrees. The weekend was the coldest of the season, compared to Monday’s high of 27.

Winter is an annual problem for Hulay. He’s spent the past eight years living on the streets of Cook County after he lost his job to the economy and his house to a fire.

It’s been even longer since he’s seen his family.

His current solution is a mix of shelters, soup kitchens, book stores and the east wall of the library’s second floor.

When the building closes at 6 p.m., he said he would head over to Borders for an hour before catching the El to Great Hope Family Center, an overnight shelter in Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood.

Shelter life is less than ideal, and safety is a concern, Hulay said.

“You got to sleep on the floor next to people who don’t want to take baths,” he said. “Sometimes somebody steals something. There might be a fight or two.”

Gimme Shelter

On most days, Angela Starks can make it from breakfast to dinner without ever being stranded outside. Evanston maintains a rotating daily schedule of shelters, soup kitchens and warming centers

For instance, on a Tuesday, the homeless can go to St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, 1509 Ridge Ave., from 7 to 11 a.m. and Second Baptist, 1717 Benson Ave., for lunch.

Bethany’s Baptist, 1225 Elmwood Ave., is open for the afternoon and Good News Community Church, 7649 Paulina St. on the Evanston-Chicago border, has dinner at 5:30 p.m.

The problem is finding a place to sleep, Starks said.

“If you do have a bed, it’s best to keep it because (shelters are) hard to get into,” she said. “You don’t know what’s going to happen next.”

The 42-year-old from Chicago’s South Side just got into Hilda’s Place, 1458 Chicago Ave., the only overnight shelter in Evanston.

She spent the past three months in a domestic violence shelter and is taking job training classes at the Howard Area Community Center, 7648 N. Paulina St., in Chicago.

Most overnight shelters require residents to apply for a bed, Starks said. Applicants to Hilda’s are placed on a waiting list and have to fend for themselves until a spot opens up.

During extremely cold weather, the center sometimes allows those in need to sleep on couches, she said.

Starks has been homeless for more than three months, but says she is already learning the harsh realities of living on the streets.

“It’s best to play by the rules and do what you have to do when you’re in (a shelter),” she said. “Because if I got myself put out, I don’t know where I would go.”

Soldiers of Winter

As Richard Greene surveyed his tabletop of plastic soldiers, he said he would never surrender to emergency housing.

“They have a negative effect on mental awareness,” he said. “The real man steps out into the night and accepts the challenge.”

Many homeless people refuse to use overnight shelters either for health concerns or pride.

“I’m riding the train back and forth from 95th to Howard Street and sometimes I come to Davis,” said Marcus Greene (no relation), known for offering his poetry to anyone who will lend an ear or a dollar.

“There’s 65 guys in one room coughing and hacking,” he said. “When you wake up in the morning the air is like cheese.”

Richard, who resides at Chicago’s Oak Street Beach, claims to have built up an immunity to the cold. He has it down to a science: two pairs of gloves, three pairs of pants, a good coat, all-weather boots and keeping your belongings in one bag. He also has his two armies of toy soldiers to distract him from the elements.

“I’ve been out for 24 hours in the cold, but I’m not frustrated,” he said. “My mind’s at ease.”

Reach Danny Yadron at [email protected].

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Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881
Homeless struggle against Evanston’s extremes in winter