Photographers' Blog

Chicago’s doctor to the homeless

January 15, 2014

Chicago, Illinois

By Jim Young


“Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them, humanity cannot survive.” —Dalai Lama

“What size boots do you wear?” Dr. Patrick Angelo asks a homeless man as he looks down at his worn sneakers. “Here, take my boots, I will give you mine,” and proceeds to give him the boots off his feet, right then and there, in 5 degree Fahrenheit weather to a complete stranger under an overpass in downtown Chicago.

Angelo is an oral surgeon by day in the Chicago area, and drives into the city several nights a week to help the homeless. A successful physician with a house in the suburbs and children of his own, he says it came to him like a flash that he could do this and make a difference. So he packed up, though not sure where to go and what to do, and off he went. That was 13 years ago, and he has been doing it ever since.

I meet Angelo at a downtown restaurant where he always goes to pick up his food order. Dozens of hamburgers and hot coffee are waiting for him like clockwork, and are put in the backseat of his car, which is full of blankets, clothes and hand warmers. Funding for his mission comes from his medical practice and profits from his healthcare company, a cost that runs upwards of $30,000 a year, according to his calculations.

As we make our way to his first stop, we pass a Salvation Army truck that is also surveying the area and making the rounds to offer help. They tell him there is no one down the ramp but we continue on anyway and sure enough, three people appear. “See,” he says, “if I don’t come and check it personally, who would help them? What would they do?” Angelo hands out supplies as he hugs one of his regulars. “He is a lifesaver,” she says.

It’s like a bus route. Zigzagging around the Windy City underpass. A stop here, a stop there. Almost all are regulars, though he says a lot of them have taken to the shelters the last couple of nights to avoid the brutal temperatures that have dropped to -40F with wind chill.

We make seemingly random stops on Lower Wacker Drive. Angelo turns on his hazard lights to jump out. He knows where they are all staying even though it is not always apparent to the naked eye. He works very quickly but with enthusiasm and sincerity. On one of the last stops to drop off food, he pauses to look out over the city from an opening in the underpass.

“Over there is Trump Tower,” Angelo says, “such a beautiful city, yet I am sure most people have no idea what lays in the shadows of these buildings.”

He doesn’t necessarily think what he does is extraordinary. He just sees the people on the street as someone’s sons or daughters. If life has given them a tough time or a bad break and if they don’t have someone to look after them, he feels it is up to him to help, even if means giving up the shoes on his feet.

Gallery: Chicago’s doctor to the homeless

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