Cold strains capacity of city’s largest homeless shelter

SHARE Cold strains capacity of city’s largest homeless shelter

Children, including babies, are part of a wave of homeless Chicagoans who’ve swelled the population of the city’s largest 24-hour shelter past capacity during this week’s extreme cold spell.

On Wednesday evening, 1,075 people — including 30 children — slept at the Pacific Garden Mission in Pilsen.

“We have 990 beds but we don’t turn anyone away,” said Pastor Phil Kwiatkowski, President of the Mission at 1458 S. Canal.

“We have mats that we put down. It’s about survival. It’s life or death and people just want to get out of the cold.”

Folks are walking in on their own and being dropped off by police and vans driven by workers from the city’s Department of Human Resources, Kwiatkowski said.

“You see these mothers with kids and babies coming in and it’s heartbreaking,” he said. “Whatever the reasons or causes for homelessness — they vary — but the kids are always innocent . . . one lady here has six kids.”

There’s been a rise in the number of young adults who are 18 or 19 years old needing shelter, Kwiatkowski said.

Some arrive without much time to spare.

A teenage boy showed up at the mission last Friday in single-digit weather after he was treated at Stroger hospital for a frozen foot that had to be cut out of a sneaker. He was with another girl and boy. All three were all 17 and had no coats, Kwiatkowski said.

“We had one fella came in and he had frostbite on his toes,” Kwiatkowski said. “He came in here in time, but it was pretty serious initially.”

The man was treated at a medical clinic at the mission.

Kwiatkowski expects the number of homeless people at the shelter to rise again Thursday night.

The wind chill is expected to be about 20 below zero overnight into Friday. Friday’s high is expected to be about five degrees. Weekend temps should climb into the teens and 20s.

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