The Forest Park Blue Line CTA Terminal. (File)

State Rep. La Shawn Ford (8th) and members of the West Side Heroin/Opioid Task Force joined Forest Park Mayor Rory Hoskins and village public safety officials at the Forest Park Blue Line CTA terminal on Oct. 4 to urge the state to do more to address public safety issues around the CTA stations that serve the village.

The press conference reiterated the concerns Hoskins, Police Chief Ken Gross and Fire Chief Phil Chiappetta shared during a Sept. 26 public safety meeting with Ford. The Blue Line terminal, and, to the lesser extent, the Harlem/Lake Green Line CTA station, account for the lion’s share of local emergency calls. The chiefs have been particularly concerned about the village’s ability to provide ambulance services to opioid overdose victims, both in terms of logistics and the costs.

Hoskins said that he and Ford subsequently discussed their plans to get some help on the state level. They hope to get legislation passed during the upcoming veto session, which is currently scheduled to run from Nov. 15 to Dec. 1. Hoskins also said that he would speak to his counterparts in Oak Park, Evanston and Skokie, which also have multiple CTA stations.

During the press conference, Chiappetta echoed the Sept. 26 comments that the number of service calls to the Forest Park terminal is already exceeding the previous years’ average. Five people died of drug overdoses so far this year. Forest Park police also respond to mental health crises, vandalism on CTA property and crimes such as theft.

“Yesterday alone, we responded three times to this location for various calls. Overdoses, mental health emergencies and alcohol-related calls,” Chiappetta said.

Ford said he was responding directly to the concerns raised at the Sept. 26 meeting and elsewhere.

 “The CTA is too important of a service to be neglected — we have to make sure we’re properly investing in this system so that every passenger can have the safe, timely journey they deserve,” he said. “For those who are homeless or struggling with addiction, we also have to do what we can to help them find help and security as well.”

The West Side Heroin/Opioid Taskforce, which Ford co-founded, works to reduce addiction and prevent overdoses on the West Side and its environs. In recent years, it has been pushing to distribute Narcan, a drug that reverses effects of the overdose, to as many locations as possible. During the press conference, Luther Syas, the organization’s director of outreach, argued that it would make sense to make Narcan available on CTA trains.

“I think that would be great, because individuals do look out for each other periodically,” he said, adding that it would be more cost-effective than paying for the ambulance.

Hoskins said he appreciated Ford’s wiliness to help, noting that, as a non-Home Rule municipality, Forest Park’s resources are limited.

“We are specifically asking our state and county partners for help in the necessary funding for our burden in responding to medical calls emanating from multiple CTA stations,” he said. 

In a statement to the media, the CTA noted some of the steps it’s already taking to address the situation, mentioning working with the Night Ministry homeless services nonprofit to provide services at the Blue Line terminal, as well as paying off-duty Forest Park police officers to patrol the three CTA stations that serve the village. The transit agency noted that it has similar arrangements with Oak Park and Evanston.

“The CTA continues to work closely with the village of Forest Park to provide a comfortable, safe environment for commuters,” it stated.

During the Sept. 26 meeting, Ford floated the possibility of broadening state Medicaid regulations to allow municipalities served by rail transit to get reimbursed for ambulance services for all Medicaid-eligible patients.  Hoskins told the Review that he and Ford discussed legislative strategy a day after the press conference.

“We hope that, during the legislative veto session, language can be added to a bill that would provide additional resources to address the needs of the homeless population,” he said. “The goal is of course to reduce the burden on Forest Park first responders.”

Igor Studenkov is a winner of multiple Illinois Press Association awards for local government and business reporting. He has been contributing to Austin Weekly News since 2015. His work has also appeared...