Advocates urge city to use hotels, abandoned houses to keep homeless warm during cold snap

“People who are homeless are out here sleeping in tents and sleeping in doorways. You need to act and start putting us in hotels or anywhere that is warm,” said Johnny Bryant, secretary of the Chicago Union of the Homeless.

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Ricardo Vara remembers his friend who froze to death last year as he advocates for the city to put homeless people in hotels.

At a rally and press conference outside City Hall on Friday, Ricardo Vara talked about a friend who froze to death last year as he and others pushed the city to put homeless people in hotels.

Manny Ramos/Sun-Times

Over a dozen housing advocates gathered outside City Hall Friday, calling on Mayor Lori Lightfoot to use hotels and abandoned homes as emergency shelter to keep homeless people warm in the brutally frigid temperatures expected this weekend.

“We have people out here every year dying because of the cold,” said Tom Gordon, vice president of Chicago Union of the Homeless. “We’re tired of losing our loved ones. People we see every day die out here freezing in the cold.”

Gordon, the so-called “mayor” of Uptown’s homeless encampment, said using those spaces will save countless lives during the harsh winter months. Housing, he said, shouldn’t be a privilege, but a right.

Johnny Bryant, secretary of the homeless union, said it is inhumane that he is forced to sleep out in the cold.

“I’ve been out here in these streets for almost two years and it’s not nice knowing our elected leaders are sitting at home warm and comfortable,” Bryant said. “People who are homeless are out here sleeping in tents and sleeping in doorways. You need to act and start putting us in hotels or anywhere that is warm.”

More snow is in the forecast for Saturday, with 1 to 3 inches expected, starting about 4 p.m. and lasting through 9 p.m., according to the National Weather Service. Then, on Sunday, temperatures are expected to get “dangerously cold” with wind chills making it feel like minus-25 degrees.

Ricardo Vara, known as the “president” of the homeless encampment at South Desplaines Street and West Roosevelt Road, also spoke at City Hall Friday, reminiscing about a friend who froze to death last year.

“He died with his hand up in the air, frozen,” Vara said. “I kept thinking that he had his hand in the air waiting for a pair of keys that never came, because he registered for housing for five years and still nothing became of it.”

Vara also criticized the normal hours for city warming centers, which typically close at 5 p.m. — as if “it stops being cold at night,” he said.

“We are going to keep reminding you that the homeless need housing.”

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