As the city prepped for a two-day stretch of brutal cold weather this week, a group of good Samaritans footed the bill to put more than 100 of Chicago’s homeless in a South Side hotel.
Spearheading the effort was Candace Payne, a 34-year-old real estate developer from Auburn Gresham.
When Payne saw the incoming cold snap earlier in the week, she and a group of friends drove around the city and picked up 70 people — including some at hospital emergency rooms, shelters and police stations and some who were sleeping in a “Tent City” near the Dan Ryan Expressway at Roosevelt Road and Desplaines Street.
Payne pitched the idea to put them in a hotel, but several places turned her down.
“No one really wanted to allow us to bring them to their establishment. They’d say, ‘Oh we want a credit card and ID for each person.’ Well come on now, they’re homeless,” Payne said.
That’s when she talked to Robin Smith, a manager at Amber Inn, a Bronzeville hotel.
Smith was open to the idea and quickly found a way to offer the cheapest rates she could. Payne and a group of friends footed the bill for the rooms for Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday nights.
On Wednesday, Hyde Park resident Sheri Edwards posted a video on social media of city workers at the “Tent City” removing propane tanks used for heaters after one of the tanks exploded. No one was injured in the explosion, but dozens were stranded without heat. Payne saw the video and picked up 30 more people.
Payne and company also cooked meals the entire week and provided clothes and CTA passes to the guests. On Friday, a barber would be brought to the hotel to give haircuts.
“I was just elated because in 20 years of being a manager here … I’ve worked with people who are homeless, but never anything of this magnitude,” Smith said. “I’ve never seen this before. It brought tears to my eyes.”
In all, more than 100 people were put into 69 rooms through Thursday night.
“This is definitely not what we thought it would be,” Payne said. “I’m just a regular person.”
Edwards, along with South Side pastor Bill Brown and Dolton minister William Fleshman, are now picking up the bill for Friday night and are expecting to put together enough money to pay for the homeless to stay on Saturday night.
“I really didn’t expect the outcome that we got,” Edwards said. “I just knew we had to do something.”