Good Samaritan Picks up Hotel Tab for 70 Homeless in Chicago During Polar Vortex

By Zachary Stieber
Zachary Stieber
Zachary Stieber
Zachary Stieber covers U.S. and world news. He is based in Maryland.
January 31, 2019 Updated: February 1, 2019

A good Samaritan offered to pay for hotel rooms for 70 homeless people who were camped out in tents in the bitter cold that blanketed Chicago.

The offer came after the Chicago Fire Department on Jan. 30 confiscated nearly 100 propane tanks given the group to keep them warm as temperatures sank to negative 22 Fahrenheit (negative 20 Celsius), with a wind chill of 49 degrees below zero.

The department acted after one of the donated tanks exploded.

Officers rushed over and declared the tent city unsafe.

“This is extremely unsafe,” Maj. David Byrd, the Illinois State Police Region commander, told ABC 7. Chicago Fire Department Chief Walter Schroeder said that the situation was deemed a Level 1 Hazmat due to all the cylinders.

“There was a significant amount of propane there, and with that many cylinders, that’s like a bomb going off,’’ Schroeder told the Chicago Tribune.

Salvation Army spokeswoman Jacqueline Rachev said city officials told the organization about their actions at the camp. The Salvation Army was about to move the people to a warming center when the city called again and said an anonymous good Samaritan offered to pick up the tab for the people to stay in a hotel.

All but one man accepted the offer; that man went to the warming center.

“All the folks there, some wonderful citizen is going to put all of them up at a hotel for the rest of the week,” Salvation Army spokeswoman Jacqueline Rachev said. “Isn’t that wonderful? At least they’re warm and they’re safe.”

Rachev was not sure of the identity of the good Samaritan and only knew the hotel was on the city’s South Side.

Doctors Visit Homeless

Doctors and other volunteers visited homeless encampments amid the bitter temperatures, trying to help anyone who needed assistance.

Dr. Ralph Ryan, a retired cardiologist, is a volunteer with a street medicine van operated by nonprofit Night Ministry. The group rolled out on Tuesday to check on homeless people across the city.

Ryan moved from tent to tent and asked if anyone needed anything. If he got no response, he told the Chicago Sun-Times, he was prepared to break protocol and open the tent to make sure those inside were alive.

chicago vortex
A lone commuter waits for a bus in Chicago on Jan. 30, 2019. A deadly arctic deep freeze enveloped the Midwest with record-breaking temperatures triggering widespread closures of schools and businesses. (Teresa Crawford/AP Photo)

One 53-year-old woman, Karen, who was staying in a tent, told Ryan what clothes she was wearing.

“Pants, sweatpants, long underwear, a long sleeve shirt, two sweatshirts, a jacket, two pairs of socks. And sneakers,” she said. “And five blankets when I sleep,” she said.

She said her feet felt numb and that she might have to go to a shelter. But Ryan said that many homeless people say what they believe the volunteers want to hear.

“They tell us what they think we want to hear a lot of the time,” Ryan said.

polar vortex-noaa
A graphic showing the science behind the polar vortex. (NOAA)


A wind chill warning was still in effect in northeastern Illinois and other parts of the Midwest on Thursday, according to the National Weather Service.

“Dangerous cold this morning and accumulating snow this afternoon and evening … dangerously cold wind chills of 25 to 45 below zero,” the service stated.

The cold wind chills can cause frostbite on exposed skin in as little as 10 minutes, the agency said.

“A Wind Chill Warning means the combination of very cold air and the wind will create dangerously low wind chill values. Frostbite can occur quickly and even hypothermia or death if precautions are not taken,” it added.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Zachary Stieber
Zachary Stieber covers U.S. and world news. He is based in Maryland.