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In Chicago an estimated 82,000 people are without a regular, warm place to stay as the city begins its first major cold snap this winter – a treacherous time for the homeless, when frostbite can take hold in minutes amid numbing windchills. In Cook County three people have died due to cold exposure since mid-November.  With temperatures not expected to eclipse the mid-teens until after New Year’s Day, Chicago’s homeless shelters have become packed with people looking for shelter from the extreme conditions.

On a typical night, between 700 and 800 people may take refuge at local shelters like, Pacific Garden Mission. On Wednesday afternoon that number was already approaching 900 and it can rise up to 1,200 on the coldest nights of the season.

While shelters and government programs provide relief to the homeless, the main problem is a lack of affordable housing.  Early Wednesday morning, community activist Andrew Holmes tried to raise awareness on by sleeping outside in the frigid conditions at a South Side homeless encampment overlooking the Dan Ryan Expressway near Roosevelt and Desplaines.

According to WRAL New Holmes explained that “There’s not enough help being done, especially during the winter time.” Holmes weathered windchills nearly 20 degrees below zero between 8 p.m. Tuesday and 6 a.m. Wednesday.

He also called for more homeless shelters in Chicago, equipped with nurses, counselors and on-site job training facilities.

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