Homeless shelters filling up as bitter cold settles in

CHICAGO (WLS) -- The bitter cold is very dangerous for those living on the streets, but there are some people and organizations who are working to help the homeless.

Carolyn Hill has been homeless since she moved to Chicago two years ago after losing a job. While she and others here are down on their luck, they are grateful for indoor shelter.

"We need more places like this here in Chicago, places that allow us to stay in during the day," Hill said.

With 25,000 square feet and 264 beds, the Franciscan Outreach Shelter on the West Side is opening its doors 24 hours a day during this week's cold spell, which means bringing in extra cooks for more meals.

"I expect to have a full house tonight and expect tomorrow. We had a full night last night, so I expect it to be the same," said Vickie Ervin, Franciscan Outreach Association.

With close to 140,000 homeless people in the city of Chicago, this shelter will likely have to turn people away on a frigid night.

Thresholds outreach worker Mada Leanga says there are not enough places for the homeless to go. She spends her days checking on homeless under viaducts and other places to make sure they have what they need to survive.

"We usually hand out hand warmers, socks, anything they need, sometimes give them soup, coffee, or even food," Leanga said.

Despite how cold it this week, a number of homeless people would rather stay on the streets than go to a shelter. Lower Wacker was home to Brian Evans on Tuesday.

"There is like a vent down right here, and it is hot air, so it heats the blankets to help me stay warm," Evans said.

Others are not sure how long they can last.

"Sometimes I have to double up on whatever I have back here, I'm not used to the weather I'm from Florida, so, I'm already ready to go back south," said Sarah Spell, who is homeless.

The City of Chicago has several warming centers open overnight and during the day on Wednesday. Anyone seeking help should call 311.
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