The fire left 100,000 people homeless. How do you care for this many people? First, free passage was offered to anyone who wanted to leave Chicago and train after train was filled with people going to other cities. It is estimated that on Monday and Tuesday some 30,000 individuals left the city. Public education was cancelled for the year and every remaining school was a refuge for the homeless. Vacant buildings were used and temporary buildings were constructed.
On the parries west of town many of the homeless built temporary shelters of the “roughest kind.” These were mostly day-laborers and the poor of the city who, in the long run, were the “greatest sufferers of the fire.” The churches also became the temporary home of many, especially for those sick and injured.
It was decided to build barracks for some and simple homes for others. The cottages would be simple but comfortable.However, the skilled workmen had lost their tools in the fire and this became a major problem.
The houses would be of two sizes: one 20x16 for families of more than three persons; the other 12x16 for families of three. “The floor joists were of 2x6 inches, covered with a flooring of planed and matched boards; the studding was of 2x4 inches, covered with inch boards and battened on the outside or with planed and matched flooring; the inside walls were lined with thick felt paper; and each house had a double iron chimney, two four-paneled doors, three windows, and a partition to be put up where the occupant pleased. Many of the houses were afterward shingled, painted and plastered. The cost without furnishings was about one hundred dollars. So far, I have been unable to obtain any locations for these dwellings.
Between October 18, 1871 and May 1, 1873, the Shelter Committee built 7,988 houses for more than thirty-nine thousand people. “Of the houses built, 5,226 were constructed within a month from the time the committee commenced work.”
Besides these houses there were four barracks in different parts of the city, each one accommodating twelve hundred and fifty persons. “Each family in these barracks had two rooms furnished the same as the isolated homes.” Each community had medical and police supervision.
Can you imagine they did all of this without any aid from what they called the Central Government. In fact, they only asked the government to lift all restrictions, like Tarriffs, and then stand aside.