In the United States' Midwest, a massive polar vortex has plunged the temperatures into record cold. It's so bad, the high in Chicago yesterday was still in the negative double digits.
With such unbridled cold, the homeless population in these cities is in grave danger. Luckily an anonymous donor has paid for hotel rooms for some.
A group of about 70 people had been using donated propane tanks to keep warm. With the windchill bringing the temperature even lower, some way of maintaining heat was sorely needed.
The Polar Vortex is making things really bad out there.
However, one of the propane tanks the group was using to keep warm exploded Wednesday afternoon. No one was injured, but when police and fire got to the camp, they found about 100 more donated propane tanks.
Walter Schroeder, the Chicago Fire Department Chief said,
"When we got there, the fire was extinguished and they found all these propane cylinders. That's when we escalated it to a Level I Hazmat."
With the danger they felt all the propane tanks together could pose, they confiscated them, leaving little the group could do to stay warm. The Salvation Army started making plans to try and transport the group to a warming center.
About an hour into planning, the city contacted the Salvation Army. An anonymous good Samaritan had offered to pay for a hotel for the rest of the week for the group.
They can rest a little easier for at least a few days.
This was unprecedented. While these cities frequently experience intense cold—enough that several hundred people die from hypothermia every year—this polar vortex has been so much worse.
People have taken to social media to demonstrate the effect of the polar vortex in fun ways, such as throwing boiling water in the air and watching it come down as snow or watching eggs freeze. However, this belies the severity for those without shelter. In only a few minutes, exposed skin can suffer severe frostbite in this weather.
And without better and permanent solutions, things will go back to bad for our homeless population.
It's great that someone was able to help this group have warm shelter for a few days, and other cities, such as New York, are putting their resources into protecting their citizens as well. Buses have been enlisted as mobile warming centers, and the city has temporarily increased capacity for shelters.
However, it's what happens afterwards that is worrisome.
Douglas Schenkelberg, executive director of the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless had this to say,
"We'll have this really bad weather through Thursday and then it will warm up some, and the scaled-up capacity will disappear, and you'll see people back on the streets, and those people need housing.
"That sense of urgency completely disappears when the crisis goes away."