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Good Samaritans who moved more than 100 people from tents to a hotel are 'just regular people trying to help'

Madeline Buckley and Rosemary Sobol, Chicago Tribune on

Published in Weather News

CHICAGO -- In a room at the Amber Inn in Chicago's Bronzeville neighborhood, bundles of clothing were piled high on a queen-size bed on Thursday afternoon, jackets, scarves and sweaters spilling onto the floor. Boxes of doughnuts sat stacked on a table next to a carton of coffee and a tub of broccoli soup.

A group of about eight friends, business owners from the South Side, scurried about the room, organizing the clothes and coordinating the next meal.

The friends, most under 40, are the good Samaritans who helped move more than 100 people living in a homeless camp south of the Loop into the hotel to escape the life-threatening cold that paralyzed Chicago this week.

"This is just regular people trying to help," said Candice Payne, 34, who initiated the effort with her husband.

Payne said she and her husband were familiar with the homeless camp near Roosevelt Road and Des Plaines Avenue because they passed it every time they went to get on the nearby Dan Ryan Expressway. When temperatures plunged, they worried that the city and charitable organizations wouldn't have the resources to get the homeless community out of the cold.

"We wanted to get as much of them out of there as possible," said Payne, who works in real estate.

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The couple and some friends drove by the homeless camp Tuesday night and took those they could persuade to leave to the Amber Inn at 39th Street and Michigan Avenue, renting 20 rooms at about $70 a piece. Payne had called dozens of hotels, and the Amber Inn was the only place that would take them.

On Wednesday afternoon, with temperatures well below zero, a propane tank exploded at the camp. That led fire officials to confiscate dozens of propane tanks, leaving the campers who hadn't accepted the initial offer of a hotel room without any source of heat.

Payne and her crew returned to the camp and took another group of people, now facing a night of near-record-low temperatures, to the motel.

Payne posted about the effort on her Instagram account, and friends jumped in to help. They quickly paid for more rooms and also donated food, clothes and diapers. Many came to the hotel to help get the people settled.

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