Life on the street is a constant struggle as homeless people never know where their next meal will come or where they will be able to find shelter for the night.
In times of extreme weather conditions, however, that struggle becomes even more difficult as their lives are literally at stake. Recently, homeless people across Chicago faced freezing to death if they couldn’t find shelter for the night. Thankfully, one local woman refused to let that happen…
In late January of 2018, Chicago experienced some of the coldest temperatures that the city has seen in decades. With the temperature plunging more than 20 degrees below zero, officials advised people in the area to stay indoors and out of the dangerous cold.
The Polar Vortex
Chicago is normally cold during the winter months, but the extreme weather was due to arctic blasts in the Midwest and Northeast of the United States that had come from a polar vortex. In some areas, the temperature nearly reached negative 30 degrees with a wind chill factor of about negative 50 degrees.
Warmth Is A Luxury
As a result of the extreme temperatures, most of the city closed down and almost everyone stayed at home to stay warm. Unfortunately, not everyone in the city had the luxury of staying warm and having shelter from the dangerous polar vortex.
In Chicago, there are thousands of homeless. At the time, many scrambled to find some form of shelter during the extreme temperatures. Sadly, not everyone was able to find shelter in time and more than 100 people were left outside directly exposed to the deadly elements.
A group of homeless people that live in an area called Tent City, a homeless encampment just southwest of Downtown Chicago, had nothing but their thin tents and a few propane gas tanks to keep them warm. They knew that being outside overnight could possibly kill them, but they didn’t have any other options.
A Local Angel
On January 30, 2018, 34-year-old Candice Payne, a local managing broker from 5th Group Realty & Management, was lucky enough to have shelter from the dangerous conditions. However, she couldn’t stop thinking about the homeless people in the area who had nowhere to go.
“It was 50 below, and I knew they were going to be sleeping on ice and I had to do something,” Payne told The New York Times. “I was crying,” the 34-year-old told WGN9. Payne started brainstorming different ways she could possibly help. Ultimately, she decided to see if there were any rooms available at local inns and hotels that she could purchase for the night that people stuck on the street could stay in.
A Personal Mission
For Payne, her mission was personal. According to Payne, her husband, Carlos Callahan, had lived on the streets at one point in his life. “I lived in my vehicle,” Callahan told WGN9. Based on his experiences, Payne knew that the homeless people still out on the street desperately needed help and that if she didn’t step up to help, no one likely would.
Getting To Work
“People judge the homeless a lot,” Carlos added. “But you never know what these people went through. And I know for me, I wasn’t on drugs, I wasn’t in a bad situation at home. Things just happened.” So without wasting any time, Payne got on the phone and started reaching out to hotels in the area.
However, when Payne explained what she was trying to do, many of the local hotels refused to allow her to pay for the rooms as they didn’t want homeless people staying in their rooms. “No one wanted them, but one hotel, the Amber Inn, was nice enough to allow me to buy the rooms,” Payne told TODAY.
According to Payne, each room cost $70 per night. Without hesitating, she purchased 30 rooms for the night with her credit card. She then reached out to friends on her Instagram account asking if anyone would like to help out with either paying for more rooms or helping transport the homeless people to the inn.
“I went on social media and asked people if they have vans or anything,” Payne said. “Would anyone want to pitch in to help me to transport? [I said] I’ll pay them for the vans to come and help.” Strangers volunteered their cars, S.U.V.s, and vans. They also donated money, which helped Payne pay for a total of 60 rooms for five nights.
“The cost was $70 a night including a meal, and strangers were just QuickPaying me,” Payne said about her inspiring act of kindness. “We met at tent city, where all the homeless people set up tents and live on the side of the expressway. It is not a secret. The homeless have been living there for years,” Payne said.
“People were giving out blankets and food and propane tanks,” said Payne, but the 34-year-old knew that no amount of blankets or propane tanks would be enough to keep everyone safe overnight. “People can’t survive this,” she added. “It was freezing. No one could have stayed outside that long.”
Unwilling To Leave
After arriving at Tent City, Payne told the community that there were warm rooms available for them. To her surprise, it took some time before they were willing to go with her. “They didn’t want to leave. They were worried about their belongings being stolen,” she said. “A lot of the men told the women, ‘You go, and I’ll watch the stuff.'”
Those who were willing to go loaded into the cars and were driven to the inn. Yet Payne decided to go back to Tent City as she could just leave the others in the cold knowing how dangerous it was. By the time she arrived back there, almost everyone was willing to go after a propane tank exploded and the fire department had no choice but to remove the rest of the tanks.
Some were still hesitant to leave their sole belongings behind as they feared everything would be stolen. So Payne made them a promise that if anything was missing when they came back, she would replace their lost belongings herself. “I begged them to come with me. It was negative 25 degrees at the time,” Payne said.
Above And Beyond
Once back at the inn, Payne and other volunteers started preparing food for everyone and collecting donations to replace lost belongings. They also handed out a variety of goods that had been donated for the group. Payne also went out and bought goods like toiletries, food, lotions, and prenatal vitamins to make care packages for everyone. “They were so appreciative. They couldn’t wait to get in a bath and lay in a bed,” Payne said.
A Grateful Community
“We don’t get that type of help. I really needed them at that point, so they came right in time,” Jermaine, a man who stayed at the Inn thanks to Payne, told CBS. “We hear about that on the news and other places but I seen it up close and personal today, and I really want to thank y’all for looking out for our people,” another homeless man named Robert told CBS.
A Regular Person
Payne’s selfless act made news across the country, however, she insists she never did it for attention. “I am a regular person,” said Payne, who spent thousands of dollars of her own money to help complete strangers. “It all sounded like a rich person did this, but I’m just a little black girl from the South Side. I thought it was unattainable, but after seeing this and seeing people from all around the world, that just tells me that it’s not that unattainable. We can all do this together.”