The Member’s Experience

Image taken outside the Queen Creek, Arizona Orangetheory Fitness location by Ren Busch.

By Ren Busch

The pandemic hit a lot of businesses hard this past year, and many are still recovering from its wake. Gyms, especially, are still doing their best to remain open while also trying to increase their member bases back to what they once were.

Orangetheory Fitness in Queen Creek, Arizona, for example, faced more than one closure over the course of the pandemic and lost a lot of its member base to mask policies that many clients disagreed with.

Since the last reopening in August of 2020, OTF has had guidelines in place to ensure the safety of its members. The staff makes sure to clean before and after every class, temperature checks are taken at the door for anyone that comes in, masks are required, and there is plenty of hand sanitizer to go around.

Renee Bohannon, a member of Orangetheory for many years, continued to go to the boutique gym despite the mask requirements, because she believed her mental and physical health were more important than being against wearing masks.

“My hopes for OTF are that we can go back to pre-COVID,” Renee said, “I want to build these friendships back up. A solid workout sells the place and results, but relationships are what makes the experience like gold, so we need that back!”

The Uniquely Nerdy Podcast

The Uniquely Nerdy podcast features unique hobbies that you may have never heard of or thought to try before. The first episode of this podcast series focuses on the intricate world of the collaborative storytelling game known as dungeons and dragons!

COVID-19’s Influence on Children’s Routines

By Ren Busch

After an interview with 9-year-old, Hayden Pierce, we explored how coronavirus has affected his daily routine. A normal day would consist of going out to the park to blow off some steam, yet the pandemic still keeps families indoors. Hayden explained how his days were spent primarily playing video games or jumping on his trampoline when he wasn’t at school

Seen, yet not heard: Homeless struggle with Voting Registration

By Amanda Garibay and Ren Busch

A sign outside of a polling location. Photo by Wikimedia Commons

For many homeless Americans, registering to vote can be a struggle. Although those who are experiencing homelessness have the right to vote in all 50 states, there are still obstacles homeless Americans face before reaching the voting booth.

According to the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, identification is not necessary if a homeless voter has already registered in person at a polling location. 

However, many homeless people cannot register in person, which leaves them with the option of registering by mail. But when registering by mail, identification is required in order to be counted.

Niya Kelly, the state legislative director and policy specialist at the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, said that providing identification when registering to vote can be an obstacle for those who are homeless because it is common not to have any identification on hand.

“There are different reasons that people experience homelessness, including incarceration, experiencing domestic violence and other things of that nature,” Kelly said. “They may have lost their identification, they may have had it stolen from them, or if they have lived in an encampment, then they may have had a police sweep and had their ID and other belongings taken from them.”

Experts say there are many common misconceptions when it comes to homeless voting. Permanent addressing is often seen as a reason as to why many believe homeless voters do not have voting rights. 

Kelly said the homeless do not need a permanent address in order to register to vote. 

“If someone is living at a homeless shelter and would like to register to vote that they would be able to use the shelters’ or drop-in shelters’ address,” Kelly said. “Making sure they could use that address to exercise their right as an American.”

Flourish: Homelessness in Illinois

“We are always encouraging people who are experiencing homelessness to vote early,” Kelly added. “So that if there is an issue, that they can get it resolved prior to Election Day.”

Tracking the number of homeless voters is difficult, not just in Illinois but nationally. The Chicago Board of Elections does not keep statistical data on the registered homeless voter demographic, according to communications spokesperson Jim Allen.

Kelly said that although she does not have any statistical data on the registered homeless voter demographic, she believes that the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless is working hard on making sure homeless voters feel enfranchised.

“I don’t have any data on hand,” she said. “But I do believe our outreach program has definitely assisted in making sure that people have access to the right to vote.”

In 2012, the National Coalition for the Homeless estimated about 10% of the homeless population are registered to vote. It’s one of the few national statistics available on homeless voters.

Ideally, the percentage would increase over the years, but voting requirements can make registering to vote harder for those without proper documentation or feelings of  disenfranchisement. 

A report from the U.S Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Annual Homeless Assessment says that in 2019, nearly 568,000 people were homeless in the United States. According to the report, almost two-thirds were staying in sheltered locations, and more than one-third were on the street, in abandoned buildings, or living under viaducts.

Former Democratic Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders vowed during his campaign that he would end homelessness with a $2.5 trillion plan. Sanders’ plan called for creating 7.4 million affordable housing units. 

Additionally, the overall number of homeless has increased nationwide by 3 percent between 2018 to 2019, or 14,885 more homeless individuals.

On top of the additional voting restrictions, this year has proven so far to be difficult in terms of being able to vote. With the rising issue of COVID-19, states were beginning to shut down and place stay-at-home orders. The fear of contracting the virus or carrying it placed new pressure on voters during the primaries, which were held on March 17 in Illinois.

Kelly explained how the COVID-19 pandemic affected the Illinois primary election, as the primary was held on March 17, and the stay-at-home was implemented on March 21.

“The stay-at-home order did not come down until the Friday after the primary election. There were only some issues as far as polling places changing,” Kelly explained. “Polling places that were usually held at nursing facilities were moved for obvious reasons. I think there were issues all across the board, around making sure folks weren’t feeling disenfranchised because of fear or because of access.”

The homeless are especially being affected by COVID-19 spreading throughout the United States because many cannot abide by the stay-at-home orders put in place by state governors. 

Mayor Lori Lightfoot held a press conference on April 13, in regards to the homeless residing in Chicago. Plans for expanding spaces and services for the homeless are being put into place so that they have protection against the pandemic. 

“We continue to build on those efforts through an additional partnership with the Salvation Army to open temporary shelter spaces with a total of 699 beds, including facilities dedicated to women and children,” Lightfoot said, providing an update to the plans of protecting the homeless.

Medical professionals have become more mobilized in Chicago to also assist at these shelters with symptom screening. More than 25,000 pieces of protective equipment have been provided to shelter residents and staff.

Lightfoot brings to light the vulnerability of the homeless community and the importance of looking out for them during this tough time, but will that empathy extend past this pandemic? The homeless population is in constant need of assistance, so it is important to keep speaking up for the people that may feel they do not have a voice.

The Presidential Election will be held in November, and the homeless population must be able to exercise their right to vote. They need a community to help them through the process of registering so that they can have their voices heard within the political process.

Feeling Disenfranchised

Often the battle of misconceptions and self-doubt leaves those who are homeless feeling disenfranchised. This feeling of disenfranchisement may stem from being incarcerated, being a minority in America, not owning a home, or any other personal obstacle. 

Although those who are experiencing homelessness have the solidified right to vote, some experiencing homelessness do not view themselves as potential voters or feel like they are not a politicians’ target audience.

 “It is a battle of misconceptions,” Kelly said. “One of my jobs is to make sure folks feel franchised through the election process.”

Individuals waiting outside a polling location. Photo by Wikimedia Commons

Too often, many individuals feel as though their vote does not matter, and their voices will never be heard by the political system, simply because they are homeless.

Those who are experiencing homelessness are considered to be the most disenfranchised groups in the United States, as well as those who have been incarcerated or who are immigrants.

“We go out to shelters and encampments to register people to vote,” she said. “It’s also an opportunity to spread that information. People don’t know that they have that opportunity to vote and as a citizen of the city Chicago, you have the right to vote. We know that it’s harder if you’re experiencing homelessness because there are so many barriers that are put in your way of getting to a polling place but if there is any way we could assist, we definitely do.”

Having individuals who are experiencing homelessness register to vote is essential to social change within our society. Eliminating strict voting registration barriers and educating homeless voters on their rights allows them to have a voice, like any other American citizen, on human rights issues and economic change. 

Kelly explained the feeling of stepping into a voting booth and how empowering it is to cast a vote. She encourages those who are homeless to exercise their right as an American and reminds them they have a say in the political system, as well as having the power to hold politicians accountable for what they represent.

“I see power and ownership within that [voting],” Kelly said. “For people experiencing homelessness, a lot of times when they come down to Springfield, in my work I’m in Springfield … working with legislators. I always have to tell them that these people [politicians] are normal people and they are here for you. They are here to hear your concerns.”

Kelly advocates on issues related to homeless youth and state budgetary issues associated with the homeless and those who are at risk, in order to give those who are impacted by social issues a voice.

“I do this work for my mother, my grandfather, and for the people I work with every day,” Kelly said. “Because if not… who?”

10 Must See Historical Sites in Chicago

By Ren Busch

The city of Chicago is full of phenomenal architecture. Many of the buildings within and surrounding the city have been named historical sites because of their architecture. Established in 1837, the City of Chicago became, and continued to be for the next few decades, the country’s fastest growing city, so it’s no surprise that the city possesses around 356 historical landmarks, according to the Chicago Data Portal. As time continues to pass, more and more landmarks will be added to this data set.

For tourists and Chicago natives who wish to explore the city’s great architectural landmarks that are less known than locations like The Drake Hotel, Jane Adams Museum, anything Al Capone related, etc., these places located on Google My Maps will give anyone more insight into Chicago’s rich cultural history.

Google Trends: Global Coronavirus Epidemic and Australian Wildfire Disasters

By Ren Busch

Coronavirus Concerns Spreads Globally

As 2019 came to an end and the new year followed, flu season was beginning to run its cycle beginning in December and ending around February. According to Duquesne University, flu season can even sometimes continue into March. They provide different guidelines for how to avoid getting the flu and spreading it. This season, however, was not only affected by the flu, but also a much deadlier virus that the world wasn’t prepared for.

Jan. 15 was the first reported case of coronavirus made public by China. 106 lives have been taken since this first report in Wuhan, China and over 4,500 cases have been confirmed within mainland China. These Chinese cities that have been affected have been put under lockdown, barring people from traveling and attempting to prevent the spread of the virus.

According to an analysis of Google search on Google Trends, within the past 7 days there has been an increasing amount of searches related to Coronavirus and traveling. As more cases get reported, travel bans will become stricter as damage control is done. This outbreak of coronavirus is very similar to the 2003 outbreak of the SARS Coronavirus, so China is doing everything it can to prevent that loss amount from recurring.

Comparison between Coronavirus and the term travel in relation to travel bans.

5 cases have been reported within the United States, affecting cities like Los Angeles and Chicago. Each case, the person with the virus had been traveling from China. Globally there are more than 70 confirmed cases within 17 different places outside of China, which reinforces the global panic for how widespread this epidemic may come despite the travel bans that have been placed on it.

Australian Bushfires Continue to Raise Climate Change Questions

The bushfires within Australia continue to rage within the continent. Google searches show the affected areas and provide links to donations to help those affected by these bushfires. The fires have claimed at least 31 lives, destroyed thousands of homes, and burned more than 27 million acres of land, affecting a vast amount of the wildlife in that area.

New South Wales is currently being hit with these fires. 3 American firefighters that had volunteered to help extinguish the fires had lost their lives this past Thursday when their air tanker crashed. A memorial service will be held for them on Feb. 23.

According to an analysis of Google search on Google Trends, within the past 7 days there has been a decent correlation between Australia and the search term fire worldwide. With how extreme this natural disaster has been, it can have lasting effects on climate change, which in turn affect the planet as a whole. Although, it was never just an Australian issue, now a global interest in climate change and its effects on the world has grown.

Comparison between searches for Australia and the word fire.

NASA provided a new animation in response to the catastrophic bushfires in Australia to show how this disaster has affected the atmosphere and can globally affect anyone. The animation also shows the effects of Hurricane Dorian, which had taken place from August to September of 2019, as well as some major fires that had affected South American and Indonesia.

Despite increase in security cameras, ridership down and crimes up on Cermak-Chinatown Red Line

Street-level view of the Cermak-Chinatown Red Line stop, facing east. Photo by Kyle Johnson.

By Karley Fontana, Kyle Johnson and Ren Busch

Running from the southside neighborhood of Roseland all the way to Rogers Park, the Red Line stretches 26 miles over 33 stops, including stops in neighborhoods that are high in violence and crime. The Cermak-Chinatown stop, in particular, has seen a dramatic decrease in riders in 2019, and crime-related incidents are questionably to blame.

According to the City of Chicago Data Portal, the Cermak Chinatown stop saw 1,459,134 riders in 2018, an average of 3,998 riders per day.

In 2019, the Chicago Transit Authority has calculated 679,945 riders up to June 30, 2019, an average of 3,757 riders per day. These numbers, of course, do not reflect turnstile jumpers. Assuming that the ridership will roughly double over the last half of the year, the Cermak-Chinatown stop will have seen close to 100,000 less riders than 2018.

In 2018, Chicago saw 319 crimes on or around the Chinatown-Cermak Red Line. 95 of these crimes were filed as assault or battery. 148 of these crimes were robberies or assaults, roughly 46% of total crimes.

In 2019, Chicago has seen 381 crimes on or around the Chinatown-Cermak Red Line stop, assuming the victims contacted authorities. 135 of these crimes contained assault or battery charges, and 215 incidents were robberies or theft, about 56% of the total crimes. There has also been one homicide. That means there has been a 19.4% increase in crimes at the Cermak-Chinatown stop alone. Are crime-related incidents to blame for this decrease in ridership?

CTA declined to comment.

Farhana Chowdhury, a junior at UIC, says she uses the CTA every day for errands or hanging out with friends.

“I don’t notice anything bad going on, usually, but I have noticed the [increase in] cameras. That makes me question if the area is bad.”

Chowdhury also stated that she avoids going to the South Side or taking certain lines at night.

“It’s better to take an Uber,” she said.

El stations and buses have seen an increase in HD security cameras in the last year. Photo by Karley Fontana

CTA’s website boasts the safety and security of it’s customers, claiming to have 32,000 cameras across the transit system. According to a May 2018 Chicago Tribune article, the CTA plans to install $33 million worth of new surveillance equipment at El stations over the course of five years.  In April of 2019, the CTA finished installing 1,000 new HD cameras that cost $3.5 million.

Despite the new camera installations, crime continues to rise across all stops, the Tribune said in a follow-up article. However, in some instances, the cameras have been helpful in apprehending suspects of criminal activity. The suspected killer of the UIC student, Ruth George, who was assaulted and killed in November of 2019, was located and apprehended due to the CTA Blue Line cameras.

Although this particular incident proved that cameras a helpful edition to the CTA rail system, many riders still feel otherwise.

UIC student Robert Hatch says he drives from home to campus, but he uses the CTA on a regular basis to visit colleagues.

“There’s been many events, and I have one actually recorded. It was a verbal conversation between two people that sounded like it was going to lead to something bad. I don’t know what the outcome of that was, though, due to me leaving the train. There’s definitely a lot of stuff going on. Pretty much all of the stops are the same, except for the Red Line. Everything on that is pretty dangerous.”

“‘Keep your eyes to yourself,’ that’s what people always say with Chicago, but it’s a little bit more than that,” Hatch said. “There’s a lot of things that you’re not going to normally see when you go on any line, but specifically the Red Line… it’s pretty sad how frequent events like these that I’ve been talking about happen. It happens almost every day. You have to be careful around that.”

Joanna Li, a resident of Chinatown and employee of Tous Les Jours on Archer Avenue, said she avoids taking the Red Line train when her late-night shifts are over.

“I haven’t witnessed any crimes, but I have heard them happening. I feel safe living in the area I’m in, because I’m not on a busy street. I know that things are happening on busier streets and in the central area of Chinatown, because it’s more crowded and touristy. I have my managers or my parents drive me home when my shift is over. I think the cameras on trains and buses are helpful, but I think maybe CTA should hire more security guards to monitor every stop” she said.

Despite increase in digital security measures, crimes have increased on all El trains, Although riders have decreased in 2019, crimes have remarkably soared on and around the Cermak-Chinatown El train station. If cameras can’t increase the safety and security of Chicago’s citizens, perhaps other measures should be taken.

Graphic made through Venngage

Reporting Crime on the CTA

You can report incidents that are non-life threatening to CTA Customer Service 1-888-YOUR-CTA (1-888-968-7282). You also can choose to file a police report by calling the local police non-emergency hotline for the municipality in which the incident occurred (311) or by visiting a nearby police station.

Population Control in Chinese Megacities

By Ren Busch

As one of China’s fastest growing and highly populated cities, Shanghai has been one of the focuses for city restrictions in terms of area the city expands to. While these cities grew for the sake of manufacturing goods, there was also a rise in population growth as workers migrated from the countryside to the city. In reaction to this population growth, the city was forced to expand to accomodate more people living within its borders. Watch this timelapse to witness just how quickly the city of Shanghai grew from 1984 to 2018.

In order to decrease the population to prevent another uprising in, what is considered “big city disease,” each city placed a population growth cap. According to The Guardian, Shanghai plans to make its population cap 25 million, and the city in 2018 sat at a population of 24.2 million. Part of this population reform includes forcing migrant workers out of their illegal housing and into smaller cities outside of Shanghai. A home that housed four immigrant families would now house one singular rich person, for example. The government was forcing a divide between the new upper-middle class and the poor working class while using the population cap as an excuse.

The United States is facing similar issues in regards to population, yet the issues within the States are reversed. The more wealthy and economically sound cities lack the appeal for migrant workers so the American approach to population control is to make cities more appealing for population growth instead of the Chinese approach for population caps.

The geographic viewpoint of Shanghai’s city mass in 2018 seen through Google Earth Engine.