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Chicago native hero to the homeless

by Margaret Stewart - copy editor
Tue, Feb 12th 2019 10:00 pm
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This winter, the United States experienced the coldest winter on record. Chicago, Ill. reached temperatures of 20 – 25 below zero and while most people were able to keep warm, bundled up in layered winter jackets or heated in their homes, those without such amenities struggled.

During the winter months, Chicago’s homeless population tends to gather in the South Loop neighborhood. However, this year, with temperatures at a record low, a fire broke when a donated propane tank exploded as it was left too close to a space heater.

In an interview with CNN, Illinois State Police Region commander Major David Byrd explained that though the propane tanks could provide warmth, they could also be a big risk.

“This is extremely unsafe,” Byrd said.

The Chicago Fire Department agreed by tweeting: “During extreme cold weather, we understand that people want to help our homeless population. However, we ask that under no circumstance should you donate propane tanks which are potential fire hazards. Propane tanks can cause potential fires and explosions.”

Dozens of people were forced to relocate. Most assumed they would be trying to find shelter in Salvation Army, which was ready and willing to welcome everyone. That was also the understanding of Salvation Army employee, Jackie Rachev, when the city asked for assistance.

However, in an interview with CNN, Rachev said the Salvation Army's aid was not needed. She received a call stating that other arrangements had been made.

“The Salvation Army was prepared to welcome approximately 70 individuals who were affected by the explosion, but was notified those services were not necessary as the individuals were already being taken care of,” Rachev said. “We are thrilled that they are safe and warm.”

Candice Payne was their saving grace. Payne located and purchased 30 hotel rooms at the Amber Inn. With the rooms costing $70, Payne told The New York Times she didn’t even give the “spur-of-the-moment” decision a second thought.

“It was 50 below,” Payne said. “I knew they were going to be sleeping on ice and I had to do something.”

Reaching out through social media, Payne was able to organize transportation to get the homeless to their temporary home.

“We met at tent city, where all the homeless people set up tents and live on the side of the expressway,” Payne told The New York Times. “It is not a secret. The homeless have been living there for years.”

Inspired by Payne’s actions, the community began calling the manager of the Amber Inn, Robyn Smith, and purchasing rooms to accommodate more people. In order to help, Smith lowered the price of the rooms.

“People from the community, they all piggybacked off Candice,” Smith told The New York Times. “Other people started calling and anonymously paying for rooms.”

The room count quickly more than doubled to 70, and despite only planning to house them until Thursday when the temperature would be less severe, Payne received more than $10,000 in donations which allowed them to remain until Sunday.

After helping 122 people and spending $4,700 on supplies, toiletries, prenatal vitamins, food, clothing and rooms, Payne expressed to The New York Times that she is just a “regular” person.

“I am a regular person,” Payne said. “It all sounded like a rich person did this, but I’m just a little black girl from the South Side. I thought it was unattainable, but after seeing this and seeing people from all around the world, that just tells me that it’s not that unattainable. We can all do this together.”

Payne also said that this was just the beginning and that she plans to continue to help the homeless community in the future.

“This was a temporary fix, and it has inspired me to come up with more of a permanent solution,” Payne said.

According to USA Today, celebrated talk-show host, Ellen DeGeneres made that a reality. On her self-titled show, Ellen gave Payne a $25,000 check on behalf of Walmart and then matched the amount.

With those funds, Payne is planning to found the “Action for a Cause” initiative. Its goal is to help displaced people in the Chicago area by providing both temporary and permanent housing solutions.