Days ahead of tight re-election bid, Chicago mayor cracks down on airport homeless encampments
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot vowed to remove the homeless encampment at Chicago O’Hare International Airport being blasted by Democratic Chicago Alderman Raymond Lopez. The city’s Alderman sounded the alarm about Chicago’s spiraling homelessness crisis on ‘Tucker Carlson Tonight.’
‘We absolutely fundamentally cannot have people sleeping in our airports who are homeless,’ Lightfoot, who is facing re-election, assured reporters in a press conference on Thursday.
‘That is unacceptable. We are going to continue, within the bounds of the law, to do what is necessary to provide those folks with support but elsewhere. They can’t be in our airports.’
Lightfoot, who has previously been criticized for her handling of crime and homelessness, among other issues facing the Windy City, is locked in a tight re-election race. Democrat Paul Vallas maintains a lead over the incumbent mayor, according to recent polls.
In the Democrat’s remarks, Lightfoot assured Chicagoans that her office is aware of the seriousness of the situation and is working on a solution.
‘The fact of the matter is, we have taken and will continue to take the steps that are necessary to move people out of the airports,’ Lightfoot said. ‘The airports are a very different place than on the street, under an underpass. It’s a secure location, and the message is clear from me to the Department of Aviation, the Police Department up there.’
The controversial mayor also argued that the media has blown the issue out of proportion, stating, ‘They’re never going to portray our city in a favorable light.’
Last week, images depicting what many have dubbed the airport’s ‘homeless encampment’ prompted critics to point fingers at the mayor’s lack of leadership. The images and videos emerging from the international airport showed filthy homeless encampments and makeshift homes throughout airport terminals.
‘They’re not just urinating in the hallways,’ Lopez told Tucker Carlson on Wednesday. ‘They’re taking baths in the toilets there. They’re making a mockery of what Chicago is here, and we understand that homelessness is a problem we must address.’
‘But making O’Hare Airport a homeless shelter for hundreds of people on a daily basis, when we’re trying to welcome people here, when we’re trying to encourage tourism, bring back the business clientele, bring back families to our city, and to only have them greeted by hundreds of homeless who have mental health issues, may be armed, may be not even be clothed, that’s not something that institutes a lot of confidence in our mayor, in our city,’ he continued.
Though the number of people seeking shelter at O’Hare in the winter months always increases, the homeless encampments this winter have increased sharply.
According to the Haymarket Center’s O’Hare Outreach program, which connects persons suffering from homelessness and seeking refuge at the airport with services, the outreach assisted 618 unhoused people at the airport in 2022, an increase of 58% from 431 in 2021. In 2022, Haymarket had 14,000 encounters with the unhoused, a huge increase over 2018, when 8,132 interactions were recorded with 392 persons.
On Wednesday, Thursday and Friday an increased police presence could be seen at the airport, with a cadre of officers stationed at the O’Hare Blue Line stop inside the airport.
On Wednesday evening, officers could be seen asking people coming into the airport to show their airline tickets or work IDs.
The law enforcement source said some of the unhoused people have displayed ‘erratic and confrontational behavior.’ That’s raised safety concerns for both passengers and employees, including maintenance workers and parking lot attendants who have recently been attacked.
Four years ago, Lightfoot made history as the city’s first Black woman and first openly gay person to serve as Chicago mayor. Now, the mayor is up for re-election and is facing scrutiny amid concerns about continuing high crime in the nation’s third-largest city.
Ahead of the Feb. 29 mayoral election, Lightfoot faces a crowded race with nine other candidates vying for her position.
During her campaign, the mayor has been forced to go on the defensive in regard to heightened crime and homelessness under her leadership.
‘We have started to change Chicago around for the better,’ Lightfoot said during a recent debate. ‘I want to finish the job that we have started.’
In 2022 alone, major crime reports up 41% in 2022 and Chicago police staffing down 12% since she became mayor.
Lightfoot’s office did not immediately respond to Fox News Digital’s request for comment.
Fox News’ Bailee Hill contributed to this report.