Economy adding to homeless population

CHICAGO On Monday, two homeless people allegedly attacked a woman, beating her severely, outside a Chicago grocery store. The suspects said they were staying at Pacific Garden Mission. The shelter denies that claim-- and fears the attack will feed into stereotypes.

Ricky Mason, 43, said he is grateful to be sober for 18 months after a drug addiction left him in need. He's part of the Pacific Garden Mission's year-long program that offers support, job training and housing.

"I came to be homeless because of doing drugs, gangs, things of that nature. I needed help," said Ricky Mason, Pacific Garden Mission

The Pacific Garden Mission has served Chicago's homeless for 150 years. In it's new location in South Loop, the vice president of ministries hoped to have enough space for all those in need. However, in just one year, they are near capacity with 900 men, women and children a day.

"Most homeless people are just like you and I- trying to make it day-to-day," said Phil Kwiatkowski, Pacific Garden Missions/V.P. Ministries

In the winter months, emergency shelters see more homeless people looking for places to sleep. Some wonder what this winter will look like.

"As the economy continues to downturn and joblessness, we are seeing a reflection of that here at the shelter so we do see the increase in our numbers, especially the last couple years," said Kwiatkowski.

"There's more people using food pantries. More people that are looking for jobs. Part of the problem is the economy is not good," said Ed Shurna, Chicago Coalition for the Homeless

Ed Shurna is the executive director of the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless. His office is a block from Monday's attack. He says he's disgusted by the incident and says it was not typical of homeless people.

"Usually what happens with homeless people is they try to stay out of the line of fire of things because they're on the street and vulnerable. So there's many more stories attached to people that are homeless that get hurt or victimized," said Shurna.

The City of Chicago is about halfway through a ten year plan the end homelessness. The last survey of homelessness in 2007 showed a drop in homelessness. The next survey will be in 2009.

Copyright © 2023 WLS-TV. All Rights Reserved.