JEFFERSON PARK — Folks who relied on the two warming bus shelters outside the Jefferson Park transit station are scrambling to find new places to keep warm at night and sleep after the CTA boarded up both shelters after they were vandalized last month.
On the evening of Feb. 27, a man damaged the glass of a CTA bus shelter and was arrested shortly afterward, police said. The man, later identified as Kajiv Fowler, 29, from suburban Skokie, was charged with one misdemeanor count of damage to property, police said.
A neighbor named David who was sitting inside the north-facing shelter said he witnessed the incident. The man hung around the shelter for almost 30 minutes before acting erratically and calling out obscenities to people in the shelter, he said.
“He said, ‘I am going to start cutting people into little pieces,'” David said.
David said Fowler had a bag full of tools with him and used a drill and jackhammer to damage the glass window. He believes the man was experiencing a mental health episode.
Block Club is not identifying David and other neighbors who use the bus shelters by full name because they have been harassed and are concerned about their safety.
CTA spokesperson Felicia Matthews said the man damaged glass windows at both of the shelters. The agency temporarily covered up the shelters “as a measure of safety for our customers and to also protect the remaining panels and structure from any further damage.”
The two bus shelters, which were part of the station’s $25 million overhaul in 2019, featured a yellow, orange and blue art glass installation known as “Center of the Universe” and were created by Indiana-based artist Jamie Pawlus.
But now, big white wooden boxes with locked doors have taken their place, leading to confusion and disruption for folks experiencing homelessness and those who regularly come by to assist them.
Another neighbor, Christopher, who often hangs around the station and used the shelters for warmth at nighttime, said not having access to the shelters has split up the homeless community.
“This has been a disruption for us,” Christopher said, who did not want to share his last name. “It’s got heaters and keeps you out of the rain and the snow and the cold.”
David, who said he’s been homeless for a few months and is at the station every day, said the shelters were places for his friends to meet up, share resources like food and clothing and check in on each other. While the recent warm weather has made it easier to spend time outside, for some of his friends who are disabled, not having a warm place to sit or sleep in a familiar location is challenging.
“It’s warmer now but [the shelters] should be reopened,” David said, who did not want to share this last name. “I still like to go sit inside there.”
Monica Dillon, who works with the folks who stay by the Jefferson Park transit hub and runs The Northwest Side Homeless Outreach volunteer group, said the shelter’s temporary closure means the social system for folks like David and Christopher has been upended.
“Now we have missing people who we can’t find, and somebody that needs wound care that I have not been able to find all week,” Dillon said. One man has been “robbed and assaulted since this happened because he’s forced to ride the train [because] it was freezing … the disruption of the routine has a very negative impact on them.”
David and Veronica, another person who frequents the transit hub, said CTA officials boarded up the shelters a few days after the incident but were given no warning.
“It was so fast… . they started boarding up and threw out people’s stuff,” Veronica said.
The vandalism incident has left folks feeling more vulnerable and unable to find some friends who used to sleep in the shelters, sources said. Some have changed their schedules and sleep locations to make sure neighbors assisting them can still find them, while some are taking the trains more often, which isn’t a good option, they said.
The folks hope to see the shelters open up again soon for them and others, especially as the Jefferson Park CTA terminal is one of the most frequented Blue Line stations.
However, even before the vandalism incident, shelter has been hard to find for those experiencing homelessness: North Side homeless shelters are consistently full, particularly since the pandemic — and the amount of people experiencing homelessness has also increased.
The Northwest Side Homeless Outreach has been circling a petition to gain support from residents to urge the city to open an emergency shelter on the Far Northwest Side, as there are none, Dillon said. The petition has been signed by over 570 people since December.
“People don’t want to see homeless people freezing… they would rather try to help them,” Dillon said. “The petition is evidence that a shelter is needed. And part of it is education and [dispelling] myths about homeless people.”
Matthews said there is no timeline yet for reopening the Jefferson Park shelters.
“The CTA is still investigating options for replacing the damaged art glass panels, which can then take several months to procure and install,” Matthews said in a statement.
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