CHICAGO – Record-breaking cold temperatures and snowfall in the eastern United States this week have delayed flights, cancelled school, and closed workplaces.
For some Americans, however, severely cold weather is more than a matter of inconvenience – it’s a question of life and death.
Catholic Charities in Chicago is working to help save lives during the cold snap, with a transportation outreach program that brings the homeless to safe places in the sub-freezing temperatures.
“Catholic Charities manages a mobile outreach program in Chicago, and 24/7, 365 days of the year we have anywhere from three to five vans transporting the homeless and those in need of shelter to warming centers or shelters around the city,” said Kristine Kappel, director of communications for Catholic Charities in Chicago.
“It can be from dozens to hundreds of people a day that we’re helping,” she told CNA.
Nicknamed “Bombogensis” or “Bomb Cyclone,” an explosive ocean storm slammed the East Coast in recent days, bringing winds of up to 80 mph, more than a foot of snow in some areas, and sub-zero temperatures.
The storm has so far closed dozens of schools, shut down power for hundreds of thousands of homes, and cancelled thousands of flights. Authorities in the affected areas have cautioned against driving.
Temperatures in Chicago plunged as low as -9 degrees in the past two weeks. Kappel said the mobile outreach program has been extraordinarily busy ever since, and she emphasized its importance.
“The homeless may not know exactly where to go or have the capabilities of getting there,” she said. “There are shelters available to them. They may need a bus to get to the shelter, or a train, and they may not have the resources to do that.”
Catholic Charities in Chicago has two shelters, which are often at maximum capacity, she said, but the transportation system is more easily accessible.
Any homeless person in Chicago may approach a hospital, fire department, or police station, who will then call Catholic Charities to pick the person up. The individual may also call Catholic Charities directly if they know the number.
The vans have mobile laptops and resources to stay updated on which shelters are available and what regulations those shelters may have.
Kappel, who has helped out with the van rides, said the experience is extraordinarily emotional, but rewarding to see the team work compassionately alongside the most vulnerable.
“These people really need to be transported somewhere safe. They’re so appreciative of it when we show up.”
Chicago isn’t the only city where Catholic Charities is providing the homeless with means to find shelter. Agencies in Florida and Tennessee have updated listings of which shelters are available. Shelters in Washington, D.C. and St. Paul have extended the number of beds, necessities, and winter safe rooms they have available.