‘It Was a No-Brainer’: Candice Payne on How She Housed Chicago’s Homeless During the Polar Vortex

During the past few weeks, many places throughout the country have experienced unusual, or even extreme, winter weather. But few places experienced weather as extreme as the Polar Vortex that hit the Upper Midwest just weeks ago. Temperatures in Chicago reached a low of -23 (with -49 wind chills) and wind chills in parts of Minneapolis and North Dakota were recorded at -60 or less.

In the midst of these record-breaking lows, there were many homeless and vulnerable people for whom the extreme cold was a life or death situation. Organizations such as Catholic Charities ramped up their efforts during the Polar Vortex to get as many people into shelters and warming centers as possible. But there was also a Good Samaritan, Candice Payne, whose heroic selflessness brought the city together and saved lives.

Candice, a 34-year-old real estate broker, stopped by A Closer Look™ this week and talked to Sheila Liaugminas about how she housed and fed more than 120 homeless people during the Polar Vortex, and how that experience has changed her.

On what prompted her to reach out and help the homeless during the extreme cold, Payne said, “I’m thinking I’m sitting here in the house … what about the people who don’t have a home, or whose house is outside? What are they going to do tonight? And it was a no-brainer to call around to the hotel. My thing was 20 rooms, 20 rooms for one night should help. And I can’t help everyone but I should help some people, right?”

Payne explained that securing 20 hotel rooms wasn’t as easy as expected.  “I got all this pushback from these hotels, they didn’t want them,” she said. “So this one motel accepted me. The manager [of the Amber Inn] said, ‘You know what? No problem. Get as many as you want.’ So I initially ended up securing 30 rooms on my credit card.”

Now that she had the rooms, Payne needed a way to get those in need to them. So she took to social media. She explained, “I put the post out on Instagram because I only have one truck. I can’t get people to these rooms in the midst of hours. So I put the post up and the post basically said I just secured rooms for the homeless, I need help transporting them down to the hotel. I’ll pay anyone with a van.”

“It went completely viral,” she told Sheila. “Everyone else reposted and reposted at me, being like, ‘I don’t have a van but I’ve got a truck. I can seat 3 people, I can seat 5 people, I can seat 6.’ And we all met at Tent City.”

Though she was met with opposition at first, once her Instagram post went viral, Candice had people from all over the city donating money, toiletries, and time in support of her cause.

“We all met down there, and initially this was going to be one day to get them out of the Polar Vortex. But with Chicago coming together, because of the donations we got with people helping, pitching in, and donating their time we were able to provide them with five nights. Seventy-two rooms that were able to help over 122 people. And that’s three meals, snacks, toiletries.”

It is no exaggeration to say that Payne saved lives. More than 15 homeless people were found frozen to death that week, and the number could have been higher if it weren’t for the selfless act of Payne and the support she received during the Polar Vortex. And although she has received lots of media attention and support, she continues to pay it forward and work to recognize the dignity of the homeless. Through her non-profit, Action for a Cause, she is using her real estate expertise to provide temporary and permanent housing to homeless people in Chicago, and allowing them to be involved in the process.

“Yesterday I was going down there and we were feeding them Subway, talking to them and letting them know the plan as to what’s happening and what’s coming,” she said. “They understand and they want to help. They want to be involved.”

Listen to the full conversation below:

A Closer Look airs weekdays at 6:00 p.m. Eastern/3:00 p.m. Pacific on Relevant Radio® and the Relevant Radio App. 

Stephanie Foley serves as a Digital Media Producer at Relevant Radio®. She is a graduate of Franciscan University of Steubenville, where she studied journalism, and she has worked in Catholic radio for 12 years. Stephanie is a wife, a mother of three boys, and in her free time she enjoys reading, running, and really good coffee. You can find more of Stephanie’s writing at relevantradio.com and on the free Relevant Radio mobile app.