The Warmth Fund: Solidarity Response to Extreme Cold in Chicago

Neighborhood street lined with snow covered cars.

By Chicago Black Rose/Rosa Negra

In an unprecedented cold front that started Tuesday night and continued through Wednesday, January 30th, extreme temperatures in the negative teens with a real feel effect of negative 40’s, most of Chicago was hunkered down inside. And for good reason–at these temperatures someone can get frostbite after being outside for only 10 minutes.  

Chicago anarchists took to the streets and started organizing immediately to ensure that folks who didn’t have permanent shelter could at least get a ride to one of the warming shelters set up around the city overnight. With funds raised through a paypal pool raising over $6,000 in five days, supplies were distributed across the city, from Roger’s Park to Hyde Park and in between. Clearing many stores out of emergency blankets, and hand warmers, organizers passed out the items along with propane-powered indoor heaters, food, water, and hot beverages to the folks who were most susceptible to the freezing temperatures.

Street Team Response

Several teams sprung up and mobilized quickly from a coalition of anarchist groups which included Little Village Solidarity Network, Haymaker, Tenants United Hyde Park Woodlawn, Blood Fruit Anarchist Library, Chicago Recovery Alliance, Lucy Parsons Labs, Four Red Stars, Chicago General Defense Committee, Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee, and Chicago Black Rose/Rosa Negra Anarchist Federation, among others. Raising funds from family, friends, and allies, they were able to immediately put together a plan to track temporary warming shelters and open spaces that were available like Haymaker gym.

Teams fanned out to purchase supplies and deliver them to whichever neighborhoods they knew best, giving rides to shelter where needed and checking in on people in encampments who were less mobile or didn’t want to leave. While hitting the streets other individuals were encountered who had the same idea, and some independent groups like ChiRides. As well, a warming school bus was making rounds and giving rides. Trinity Lutheran Church in Bridgeport was passing out socks that the teams were able to take with them, and shelters like Flood’s Hall in Hyde Park were looking for help with the early morning shifts, being especially busy at night. Provided by Chicago Recovery Alliance, narcan was available and distributed to whoever was in need.

The city has a long history of criminalizing homelessness and prioritizing the needs of developers and landlords over tenants and people without housing, while hundreds of houses sit empty or foreclosed across Chicago. Though we don’t depend on the City of Chicago to come through in times like this, we used whatever tools we had to keep people safe tonight. A lot of the warming shelters that would be open during the day on Wednesday weren’t open at night, but the trains that were running 24/7 weren’t charging readmission. Passing out single ride ventra cards downtown and elsewhere has already kept a lot of people out of the cold, and then we have teams going in and out of train cards offering food and supplies through the night and all day today.

We’re not here to be thanked or anything, but mutual aid and direct action are what’s going to save us from capitalism and that’s something that doesn’t just come about when you need it–it’s something that requires organizing now and practicing community care all the time.

Ongoing Efforts

With the funds that kept flooding in, organizing are hoping to expand hot food distribution, and continue passing out supplies such as hand warmers and ventra single rides. Dehydration and lack of food will become more pressing the longer the extreme cold continues. Those items will be important to continue bringing to shelters. McDonald’s and other 24/7 restaurant gift cards are great for a free meal and the opportunity to spend some time indoors, since a lot of places make people they identify as homeless spend money there in order to stay. Of course, giving cash directly to people allows them to choose where to eat or stay warm.

In a similar vein for helping folks help themselves, some teams bought and distributed snow shovels for those who want to earn their own money shoveling.  Shelters are collecting gloves and hats, blankets, coats, etc. Important if more expensive items include sub-zero rated sleeping bags, tents, waterproof tarps, and phone cards. Even as the temperatures eventually travel back towards positive numbers, it’ll be good to have information and preparations for the next plunge. This is certainly not going to be the last cold day in Chicago, and since capitalism-caused global warming has exacerbated this extreme cold and fluctuation in climate, it’s going to become more and more vital that we find solutions for sustainable long-term survival collectively.

Another useful tip— Free rides to warming centers are available with Lyft through Friday, February 1 at 11:59pm. Use the code CHIJAYDEN19 (named for Winter Storm Jayden) to redeem two rides at up to $25 each to city-designated warming centers.

In addition to the warming shelters that the City of Chicago listed (marked here with google maps), other organizations that were staying open include:

  • Trinity Church on 94th
  • The Night Ministry’s The Crib (for young people)
  • The Sikh Temple on Devon
  • Aeslin Pup Hub, 1904 N Milwaukee (for people with pets)
  • Above Zero Soup Kitchen, 2242 S Damen
  • Flood’s Hall on 52nd Place in Hyde Park, 3rd floor (not 24/7)
    This site is urgently in need of additional volunteers. Link to sign up to volunteer for a shift or call (414) 455-6861.
  • The Garfield Center, 10 S. Kedzie Ave
  • 807 S 17th Ave, Maywood IL