By Jacob Rogers
Tyrone Brown is homeless, but he’s singing.
“Spare a little,” the 62-year-old sings softly, shaking a clear plastic cup across the street from Wrigley Field. Most pass by only offering a glance. One man asks how he’s doing.
“Not good,” Brown responds.
Fans are waiting to watch Game 3 of the World Series, many of whom will pay $100 cover charges to watch in bars like The Cubby Bear, down the street from Brown. A lot of money is pouring into Wrigleyville, Brown isn’t seeing much of it.
“They look at me bad. There’s nothing I can do about it … I can’t control other people’s feelings,” he says. “I wish they’d just give me a couple bucks, I’d be happy.”
Brown has been homeless for “three to four years,” he says. He can’t remember exactly. He sleeps at Pacific Garden Mission just south of downtown.
According to a 2014 report by the City of Chicago, 84 percent of Chicago’s 6,294 homeless stayed in shelters. Access to shelter also tends to determine access to social services such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and Medicare or Medicaid. The same report says 72.4 percent of sheltered homeless people received SNAP benefits, compared to 32.7 percent of those without shelter.
Ralph Blake, 50, works two jobs, but they don’t pay enough to make ends meet. Welfare gives him another $190 a month. It helps, but not much. Blake thinks that people aren’t as willing to help because they don’t understand homelessness.
“A lot of people stereotype homeless people as dirty and nasty,” he said. “Everybody ain’t like that.”
Blake has only been panhandling for a month. His beard is clean cut with tufts of gray. He has gloves (one yellow, one gray) and his shoes are neon yellow. He offers to watch people’s cars across the street from the Wrigley Field sign in hopes they’ll give him a few bucks. While he is trying to find a place to stay before winter hits, he wants to avoid shelters.
“They’re too nasty,” he said. “I take care of myself. If you [just look at] me, you wouldn’t think I was homeless.”
Despite their situations, Blake and Brown are optimistic about the Cubs chances of winning the championship, like others among Wrigleyville’s homeless population.
“You ain’t gonna find a homeless person around here that don’t love the Cubs,” Tony Smaw, 51, said. “They bring money to the neighborhood.”
Smaw is sitting outside Subway on West Addison Street the day before game three. He uses a wheelchair since he lost his legs in a car accident. He has no cup for money and just sits quietly in his dirty white hoodie, inflamed and swollen hands in his pockets. People walk by, talking and laughing. In his five years of homelessness, he’s spent a lot of time at Wrigley Field. He says fans can be generous with giving, especially if the Cubs win and they’re drunk, but that’s out of his control.
“Some do, some don’t. Some will, won’t,” Smaw says. “I ain’t even here for that. I want to see them win.”