Chicago homeless population need help as they prepare for bitter cold weather

CHICAGO (WLS) -- The bitter cold is cause for concern for those experiencing homelessness. Serious health complications could happen. Advocates are doing what they can to prepare them, but they say they need your help.

It feels like -2 degrees, even in the sunshine, but in the shadow of the Kennedy Expressway, Carlos Rivera and others experiencing homelessness are preparing for brutal cold we haven't felt in more than a year.

"They're telling us get ready for it, but really, how much ready can I get in here," Rivera said.

A 55-year-old skilled laborer, Rivera became homeless during the pandemic, and has been living here under the Kennedy for seven months.

"I'm here not by choice, by need," he said.

That need for help, for warmth, for shelter is devastating as Chicago homeless try to gird themselves against the bitter cold.

"Lots of blankets. Bottom line. Lots of blankets. And just how you see me dressed, that's how I sleep," Rivera said, pointing to his coat and several layers underneath.

RELATED: A full list of City of Chicago warming centers open to the homeless or anyone in need of heat

Burke Patten and the Night Ministry homeless advocates are giving cold weather supplies and doing wellbeing checks. But Patten said the shelter situation in the city is precarious.

"As we look forward to cold weather coming up, we're just not certain yet what the shelter capacity will be at," Patten said.
And the situation on the street, in the cold, can be dangerous.

"You're gonna get frostbite cases, you're gonna get hypothermia, you could get dehydration," Patten said. "But I think ultimately, we could see people dying if there aren't some real immediate solutions."

Other advocates stress that affordable permanent housing is the answer.

"When people on the street are offered permanent housing they will take it, and that is the only way to keep people truly safe from the cold," said Julie Dworkin, Policy Director for Chicago Coalition for the Homeless.

Until then, Carlos Rivera has a message for those listening.

"Put yourself in my place. What would you need? I'm no different than you. I'm just in a different situation. You being in my shoes, you'd be needing the same things I need," he said.

If you're experiencing homelessness or want to help, take a look at these resources:

The Night Ministry

Chicago Coalition for the Homeless
Copyright © 2021 WLS-TV. All Rights Reserved.