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Candice Payne, a Chicago real estate broker, is being hailed a hero after helping more than 70 homeless people get out of the blistering cold in Chicago's South Side and into a nearby hotel.
After thinking about the homeless population outside while the city experiences record sub-zero temperatures, she picked up the tab for the rooms, getting help from her friends who shuttled them, Payne said.
"No one wanted them, but one hotel, the Amber Inn, was nice enough to allow me to buy the rooms," Payne told TODAY. With the help of strangers who saw her post on social media, she was able to rent almost 60 rooms for a total of five nights.
"The cost was $70 a night including a meal, and strangers were just QuickPaying me," she told TODAY. Once she had arranged transportation, she pulled up to "tent city" on the side of the expressway near the financial district where she says the homeless have set up their own little community.
"People were giving out blankets and food and propane tanks," she said. But Payne, 34, knew right away that food donations would not be enough. "People can't survive this," she said.
It was a challenge getting some of the "friends," as Payne refers to the homeless people, to come with her to the hotel.
"They didn't want to leave. They were worried about their belongings being stolen," she said. "A lot of the men told the women, 'You go, and I'll watch the stuff.'"
She told the men that she would replace any lost belongings and finally got them to agree to come with her. "I begged them to come with me. It was negative 25 degrees at the time."
In an interview with NPR, Payne said some of the people included people with disabilities and at least one pregnant woman.
The polar vortex has brought an arctic blast to the Midwest and Northeast over the past week, with Chicago seeing temperatures at -27 degrees with a wind chill factor of -42. Schools and businesses in the city closed and flights were cancelled, effectively shutting down the city in the face of the dangerous cold.
At least 12 people have died nationwide as a result of the cold.
Although warmer weather is thankfully on the horizon, Payne says that she was changed by the experience and that she plans to take permanent action to further help the homeless in her beloved city by purchasing a building for housing and lining up jobs.
"I don't have an organization," she told TODAY. "I'm just a regular person."