City Using Chicago’s Homeless to Fight Food Deserts

A Neighbor Cart in Wicker Park

A Neighbor Cart in Wicker Park

If you’ve spent any significant amount of time in Chicago, you’ve probably seen a StreetWise vendor or two. StreetWise is the weekly magazine about Chicago that is sold by the city’s homeless as a means of transitioning them into lives off the street. They buy the magazines for 90¢, sell them to the public for two dollars, and keep the difference. StreetWise sells 20,000 issues each week and was at one time the nation’s biggest “street” publication.

Now a company called Neighbor Capital has hooked up with StreetWise to help its clients get into a new business — Food retailing.

A Neighbor Cart on the Near North Side

A Neighbor Cart on the Near North Side

A series of streetcorner fruit carts called Neighbor Carts has started popping up around the city. There were ten of them in Chicago last year, mostly in Humboldt Park and Little Village. This year, there are expected to be 30, spread city-wide. We’ve seen them in the Wicker Park and Near North neighborhoods, and they’re also operating from Uptown to Bridgeport.

The Neighbor Carts help address two ongoing problems in Chicago — “food deserts,” where access to anything other than liquor and junk food is difficult; and unemployment. The carts are run by the homeless, or those who are at risk of becoming homeless.

Remarkably, in spite of Chicago’s notoriously variable weather, the carts will operate 200 days a year. If you’d like to download a PDF map showing the cart locations, click here.

So, how are the prices? Pretty good. A banana at Starbucks runs $1.00-$1.50, depending on the location. According to the Chicago Tribune, you can get three for a buck from a Neighbor Cart.

The program is a partnership of StreetWise, the City of Chicago Department of Housing and Economic Development, and Neighbor Capital.

Unfortunately, Neighbor Capital’s web page is so stuffed with buzzwords, it just barely counts as English and doesn’t actually say anything. It’s like the whole site was written by throwing a set of politically correct magnetic word tiles at a refrigerator, so we can’t tell you much about the organization. But here are the highlights: social impact, sustainable, dignity, solutions, empowerment, collaboration, change agent.

I won’t buy food from just any old person selling it on the street.  But since these carts of licensed and regulated by the city, and serve a good purpose, I could see myself buying something from them to munch on every now and again.  And since the mayor is so concerned about obesity in Chicago, perhaps these carts should compliment, or replace, some of the Dunkin’ Donuts outlets in the city’s CTA stations.

Editor’s note: No, this article isn’t off-topic. This blog’s purpose from its inception is to chronicle life in urban Chicago. The Yahoo web site isn’t just about cowboys. doesn’t only stock books about the rainforest. And The Chicago Architecture Blog isn’t limited to stories about architecture.

Author: Editor

Editor founded the Chicago Architecture Blog in 2003, after a long career in journalism. He can be reached at

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