A pair of homeless outreach workers with the Salvation Army drove around Lower Wacker Drive Friday evening, searching for people in need.
Whenever they saw a row of tents where a group of people were staying, they jumped out of their road-salt-stained van with a meal in one hand and a rolled-up blanket in another.
It was the first of 21 homeless encampments The Salvation Army was set to visit throughout the night, offering help to anyone willing to accept it. They also handed out gloves, hand-warmers and hats.
The temporary outreach effort was put together by the city’s Department of Family and Support Services to help protect some of the most vulnerable residents during the weekend’s subzero wind-chill temperatures. The city reached out to the Salvation Army and other groups, asking them to go out and offering reimbursement for some expenses.
Salvation Army teams are visiting areas where the homeless population is known to be large and will offer aid and support. Their efforts will continue through Monday night.
“The cold weather response is for us to go out to various targeted areas to see how individuals outside are doing, assist them any way we can,” said Richard Vargas, community director of social services at the Salvation Army. “It is also a chance for us to help people who are not so seasoned in living out in the streets, and we can provide them with cold weather comfort gear.”
Vargas said they will also ask people if they are willing to move to an overnight warming center; if so, Salvation Army workers will drive them to the nearest one, then drop them back off the mornng after.
Within 15 minutes of arriving on Lower Wacker Drive, three people accepted that offer. The others chose to stay but welcomed the food and gear.
With temperatures expected to drop into the single digits overnight this weekend, Chicago opened two overnight warming centers. The wind chill could dip to minus-19 degrees Saturday night, and 2 to 5 inches of snow is also in the forecast, could fall by the end of Saturday evening, according to the National Weather Service.
“It’s important that we help our neighbors when they are in need, and when we see individual struggling because of the cold weather, it is our job to step in and help,” Vargas said. “They may not live next door to us, but the homeless are still our neighbors and should be treated as such.”
Lisa Morrison Butler, commissioner for the Department of Family and Support Services, said community-based partnerships like this are important for expanding services to the homeless during this period.
“This public-private collaboration results in a response network that is more able to meet the diverse needs of individuals battling homelessness,” Butler said. “Serving alongside these partners increases capacity so that more support services are available to those most in need.”