CHICAGO (CBS)–As temperatures plunged to dangerous wind chills Tuesday night in Chicago, a man in a wheelchair pulled up to the doors of Pacific Garden Mission, a homeless shelter that was already filled well beyond capacity with people seeking comfort from the deadly elements of the night.
Although the shelter had surpassed its capacity more than trifold, the man was quickly welcomed inside. He spent the night Tuesday feeling warm and well-fed along with around 800 other homeless men, women and children who sought refuge at the shelter, which is the largest in the city.
Pacific Garden’s president, Philip Kwiatkowski, said the man had been trying to navigate the icy sidewalks in his wheelchair and somehow made his way to the shelter on his own.
“He showed up with nowhere to go and we took him in,” Kwiatowski said.
Usually Pacific Gardens houses people for up to 30 days while they ease them back into society with support finding a job and getting access to other resources needed to sustain independence.
But this week, those rules were tossed aside and anyone was welcomed inside–no questions asked.
As a Polar Vortex beared down on Chicago as night fell on Jan. 29, volunteers served a hot brisket dinner to the hundreds of homeless who gathered inside to stay warm.
Most of the homeless hunkered down and stayed there on Wednesday.
Pizza and hot soup were served for lunch, and the guests passed the afternoon hours in front of chess boards and gathered around TV’s.
Kwiatowski said the shelter would accommodate anyone who needed a warm place to stay again on Wednesday night.
Since all the beds are filled, mats were being lined up on the floor of the auditorium to make sure no one was left out in the cold.
“It’s our belief that we’d rather have someone sleeping on a mat than dying outside,” Kwiatkowski said.
About 15 children stayed overnight Tuesday, he said.
“Kids tug at your heart at the most,” Kwiatkowski said. “When you see a kid come in on a day like today that really hurts.”
If you want to help Chicago’s homeless, Pacific Gardens needs coats, hats, gloves and mittens and is accepting donations. The shelter is located at 1458 S. Canal St.