Despite Cold, Some Choose Not to Use City Warming Centers, Shelters
ROSELAND — Marlon Johnson, a homeless Vietnam War veteran, could get a visit from the city's Department of Family & Support Services Tuesday night, when officials warn that staying outside too long could produce deadly results as temperatures drop to single digits.
Department spokesman Matt Smith said the city plans to conduct well-being checks on the homeless around the city from 8 p.m. Tuesday to 2 a.m. Wednesday.
The city plans to offer the homeless rides to overnight shelters and information on getting assistance in the bitter weather at one of the city's six warming centers.
But even with the city outreach, which includes free rides for people who call 311, some said they preferred not to use either the shelters or the warming centers.
Johnson said he planned on spending the night Tuesday at the Calumet District police station to stay warm. He said he didn't bother going to a warming center because he would have had to leave at night, and he doesn't feel safe at the overnight shelters. He also said he didn't want to leave his Roseland neighborhood.
"This is what I know, and this is where I choose to stay," said Johnson, 67, who was a Marine for 20 years. "I feel safer when I know my surroundings."
While Smith said that police stations are an extension of the city's warming centers, he said "a person should call 311 first and not just show up at the police station."
Others said the warming centers weren't conveniently located and weren't the most welcoming places to go.
The closest city-run community center to Smith and other Far South Side residents is at 8650 S. Commercial Ave. in the South Chicago neighborhood. That center, like the other five the city operates, closes at 5 p.m. during the week (they are open to 7 p.m. on Wednesdays) and is not open on weekends.
"There are no warming centers in Roseland, and I am not about to travel way across town to get to one," said Steven Hill, 38, a self-employed janitor from Roseland who opted to stay with a friend Tuesday night. "I have been to a warming center before and did not like it. The chairs are hard and uncomfortable. If the city knows people are going to these centers and staying all day then they should put softer chairs in there and install a water fountain."
Roxanne Ross, who was at the Englewood Center, 1140 W. 79th St., on Tuesday, said there are other improvements the city could make at the centers.
"They can start with better customer service. I have went to warming centers in three other states [California, Virginia and Georgia] and Chicago is the worse," Ross. said. "They talk to you all crazy and are inconsiderate, too."
The 40-year old consultant lives in Hyde Park but came to the Englewood Center even though there was a warming center closer to her at 4314 S. Cottage Grove Ave. Ross said she also came to the center to get help paying her rent.
She opted not to go to an overnight shelter, however.
"You can survive during the day. But at night, that's the real challenge," Ross said.