City’s homeless struggle to stay warm after storm

Hypothermia still a risk with temperatures above freezing.

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A man, who declined to give his name, sits on the ground outside the city’s only 24-hour warming center Dec. 26, 2022.

A man who declined to give his name sits Monday outside the city’s only 24-hour warming center, where doors were locked at 7 p.m.

Zack Miller/Sun-Times

Jerry Elkins was leaving the city’s only 24-hour warming center to head to a shelter Monday night. He said the “high winds and cold temperatures” had brought him to the warming center, though he had struggled to get there due to a series of epileptic seizures affecting his mobility.

“My body’s a wreck,” Elkins said, outside the Garfield Community Service Center at 10 S. Kedzie Ave. “Living out on the streets in these cold temperatures doesn’t really help.”

Although the warming center is supposed to be open while temperatures are below freezing, its doors were locked at 7 p.m. Some people seeking to escape the cold banged on the doors until a staff member opened them; others walked away.

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When asked how he had gotten by on nights before coming to the warming center, Elkins said, “I do what I can.”

As many struggled to book flights and trains canceled or delayed by inclement weather Monday, many of Chicago’s unhoused were just trying to make it through the night.

The winter storm that battered the Midwest has moved on, but the National Weather Service had much of Northern Illinois under a “hazardous weather outlook” and warned of “limited excessive cold risk” Monday night.

Temperatures were poised to stay above zero with no chance of additional snow and 20 mph gusts not returning until Tuesday afternoon.

The danger, however, remained, as hypothermia can still occur when temperatures are above freezing.

Andy Robledo of Pilsen — who has helped set up orange tents designed for ice fishing — said those in his thicker tents had been able to brave the elements nearly unscathed, although he admitted it was “still hard out there.”

“It felt good going there this time and know I didn’t have to pull someone out who had frostbite,” Robledo said.

Robledo said he was frustrated by the city’s solutions to the persistent issue of unhoused people in Chicago. Warming centers were “great,” but just a Band-Aid, he said.

He said the city should put homeless people in motels and use an emergency declaration to open up more avenues for solutions, as has been done in Los Angeles.

The state and federal governments need to step in as well, he said.

The help “has been all community-based. It is our neighbors, the people of this city who are stepping up to help our neighbors out there.”

Some homeless residents outside the city’s warming centers Monday night agreed.

Anthony Johnson, 50, a lifelong Chicagoan who has been living on the streets for “a while,” said even six months of stability — namely through housing — would be enough to turn people’s lives around.

“Housing is No. 1,” Johnson said, adding he’d love to get into a housing program. “If you get housing, then you can look into working. ... We just need something to help people get stability.”

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