Death of homeless man spurs outrage

CHICAGO – Raymond Greenwald, a homeless man, froze to death here under a footbridge in River West Park on Jan. 18. His body was discovered by a group of 14-year-olds out playing in the snow.

About 35 community residents and children bearing candles gathered Jan. 24 by the bridge not far from the North Branch of the Chicago River in Greenwald’s memory and to express outrage that his death had occurred.

“This homeless man is a victim of misplaced federal priorities. President Bush wants to go to Mars, yet we have people hungry and homeless here,” declared Julie Peterson, a leader of Beyond Today, the neighborhood peace group that organized the vigil. “We have spent billions on war in Iraq when our cities and states are in fiscal crisis and cannot afford basic services.”

The costofwar.com web site estimates that $98 billion has already been spent on the Iraq war, which could have paid for construction of nearly 1 million new affordable housing units.

One of the youths who discovered the body, Brent Childers, 14, said Greenwald’s death was “not right. They are spending money on different things and not spending enough on the homeless.” Another said the city should be building shelters instead of more condos.

Julie Dworkin of the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless noted that Greenwald was not the only homeless person who had died this winter from the cold. Another man died during the same week when Chicago was hit by snow and subzero temperatures. He had been living in an abandoned car when his space heater caught fire. Altogether eight people have died from the winter cold here.

“The Bush administration cuts taxes to the rich while it cuts emergency homeless assistance at a time when the need is growing,” said Dworkin. “Mayor Daley and Gov. Blagojevich have all pledged to end homelessness and we must continue to struggle to make sure they fulfill their promises.”

Greenwald’s death came on the heels of the U.S. Conference of Mayors’ damning report, which showed hunger and homelessness on the rise despite claims by the Bush administration of an economic recovery. The annual Hunger and Homelessness survey noted that requests for emergency food assistance increased by an average of 17 percent over 2002, and emergency shelter assistance increased by 13 percent.

The survey also noted cities find the crisis overwhelming in the face of severe budget cuts, which limit their ability to provide emergency assistance. A record 84 percent of cities had to turn away people from homeless shelters because of lack of space. This was up 38 percent over 2002 and the largest turn-away in seven years. Sixty-one percent of people requesting emergency food assistance in the cities surveyed held jobs.

The report also revealed the crass indifference of the Bush administration when it comes to families and children. Fifty-nine percent of those requesting emergency food assistance were members of families with children.

The author can be reached at jbachtell@rednet.org.