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Meet The Chicago Woman Who Rented Hotel Rooms For The Homeless During Frigid Polar Vortex

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A homeless man who did not give his name bundles up in blankets Tuesday morning, Jan. 28, 2014, in downtown Chicago.

Kiichiro Sato

In a week of record cold, Chicago resident Candice Payne rented hotel rooms for strangers living outside. Then the donations started pouring in. NPR's Scott Simon speaks to the good Samaritan.
Temperatures were cold, historic and dangerous in much of the country this week. It got down to 21 degrees below zero in Chicago. Candice Payne was worried about the scores of people who usually make a kind of camp in tents along Roosevelt Road next to the Dan Ryan Expressway. She decided to do something. She got out her American Express card and rented 20 hotel rooms for strangers who happened to be homeless. She then posted about it on social media, and as donations came in, she rented even more rooms. Candice Payne joins us now. Thanks so much for being with us.

CANDICE PAYNE: Oh, no problem. Thank you for having me.

SIMON: Well, what went through your mind when it got cold and you thought about the people out on Roosevelt Road?

PAYNE: Oh, man, so I actually called my employees and told them they don't have to come in the next day because it was going to be freezing. And I don't want...

SIMON: Yeah. You're in the real estate business I gather, right?

PAYNE: I am in the real estate business. I'm a real estate investor. But as I laid there in bed about to watch some TV and have a glorious day, what happens is I got to thinking. And I told my husband - and I said, you know what? Let's go rent 20 hotel rooms. And he said, that's fine, but how are we going to get all these people to these hotel rooms? And so I went on social media and I posted, hey, I'm renting 20 hotel rooms for the homeless. If anyone has a van or a passenger van that will help me transport the homeless to the hotel, I'll pay you. And it went completely viral. It allowed us to go from 20 rooms to 59 rooms for four nights. And I'm at the hotel now, and there are still - people are just pulling up now trying to give donations to pay for more nights.

SIMON: You've met a lot of the people that you've helped out, I gather.

PAYNE: Oh, yeah. They call me an angel, and these people, they - they want to work. They want to work for their room. What can I do for you? Some people probably look at them and, like, don't understand their story. And the truth be told, with this government shutdown and all of that stuff, a lot of people are one paycheck away from that same situation.

SIMON: Yeah because, I don't have to tell you, I mean, temperatures are going to get better, but a lot of these folks still have to make their home on the streets. So your work isn't ending this week with this cold snap, is it?

PAYNE: No. And this is just a temporary fix. We're now about to put in some type of permanent action to help them further.

SIMON: Boy, you know, I know it went viral and there are a lot of people to thank, but I can't get over the fact that it began with you. And there are just so many of us who say, oh, that's terrible. Someone should do something. You decided to make yourself that someone.

PAYNE: Yeah. I mean, there was a lot of people pulling up, dropping off food, blankets, and that's fine. Well, below zero, the food was getting cold as soon as someone set it out there.

SIMON: Yeah. Well, sounds like you've changed their lives and they've changed yours.

PAYNE: Absolutely. They've definitely changed mine because you don't know until you're either in it or next to it. In these past days (ph) I've been next to it. It's freezing outside. You know, some of them are disabled. We've got children here. We got pregnant women here. No. Let them stay where they're at. We'll bring it to them.

SIMON: You're very impressive, Candice Payne. I'm so glad we could speak with you.

PAYNE: No problem.

SIMON: Candice Payne, Southside of Chicago, thanks so much.

PAYNE: No problem.

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