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CHICAGO — With the homeless population expected to rise as unemployment numbers continue to climb during the COVID-19 pandemic, Chicago is working to expand resources to provide relief.

Chicago opened five new shelters recently, but overnight the Chicago Fire Department stepped in to help transport homeless people from area hospitals to various YMCA’s and hotels.

It’s an effort to free up more hospital beds for COVID-19 patients in need of serious care.

“It does free up the hospitals and right now we know we’re going to get many, many more patients,” said Larry Langford, Chicago Fire Department Spokesman.

The state of Illinois has set aside $8 million to help get the homeless off the streets and out of crowded shelters.

“We have 86,000 people in the city of Chicago who are experiencing homelessness when we’re not in a pandemic,” said Doug Schenkelberg, Executive Director, Chicago Coalition for the Homeless. “The fact that we have that number of people experiencing homelessness — that we don’t have a long term solution to that — makes it that much more difficult to handle in a crisis.”

As of March 27, Chicago had moved 164 people under the age of 60 who did not have preexisting health conditions.

“We’re pretty busy. If you listen to the radio for more than a few minutes, you’ll hear one of the vans being dispatched,” said Langford.

The Department of Family and Support Services said 665 of 900 new beds are now ready and hotel rooms are available for those who have tested positive or may have been exposed to the virus.

Advocates for the homeless are grateful for the continued work of the Chicago Fire Department during the pandemic.

“They’re really heroes in this moment as they continue to do their work in a really tough situation,” said Schenkelberg.

There has been one confirmed case of COVID-19 in a Chicago shelter.