Chicago migrant crisis: New details emerge on city's response to health concerns at Pilsen shelter

City officials sent exterminator to shelter for cockroach infestation, emails show

Craig Wall Image
Wednesday, January 17, 2024
Details emerge on city's response to migrant shelter health concerns
New details have emerged in emails obtained by ABC7, showing the city of Chicago's response to health concerns raised at a Pilsen migrant shelter.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- More details have emerged about the city's response to complaints about conditions at a Pilsen migrant shelter in newly obtained emails between city officials.

The shelter is where a five-year-old boy died after suffering an unspecified medical emergency last month.

The location has also been the focus of a lot of scrutiny over the past few months about conditions that the migrants are living in.

After questions were raised about the Johnson administration's lack of transparency about their response to complaints, ABC7 obtained emails Wednesday with the details.

At the city's largest migrant shelter, a mother was seen hustling her child inside to get out of the cold. Others crowded around the van of a volunteer who brought 300 items of clothing to help them cope with the bitter cold that continues to grip the city.

Nearby, surrounded by chunks of frozen snow, there are still parts of a memorial in honor of five-year-old Juan Carlos Martinez who died from unknown causes in December.

"We have been asking for transparency from the Johnson administration for literally months," migrant volunteer Annie Gomberg said. "And we've been asking for it in some pretty specific ways."

Three weeks after the shelter first opened in early October, complaints about conditions were brought to the attention of 11th Ward Alderman Nicole Lee. She immediately informed the city.

In an email sent the evening of October 28th, obtained by ABC7, Alderwoman Lee informed the mayor and top officials about numerous concerns about the shelter. The complaints included insufficient bathrooms and a cockroach infestation.

"The city officials responded, pretty immediately acknowledging that they received my email that they were concerned about this as well," Lee said. "They wanted to go ahead and investigate what was going on."

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The initial response by the city to media requests for emails of city's response included heavily redacted documents. ABC7 has since obtained clean versions of the emails, which show the Deputy Mayor overseeing the migrant situation responded in just over an hour, indicating several issues were new to city officials.

The following evening, the Commissioner for Family and Support Services offered a detailed response, addressing the concerns and noting an exterminator was being sent for the cockroaches.

"When we see the redacted documents like this, and when, and especially in the midst of tragedies and conditions in shelters, we gotta act upon the highest level of integrity and transparency," 25th Ward Alderman Byron Sigcho Lopez said.

The mayor's office issued a statement, saying since being notified of problems at the shelter, the city has taken action to address the situation, but the mayor's office acknowledged there is more work to be done.

Alderman Sigcho Lopez said the Latino Caucus will meet Thursday with city leaders to discuss oversight of shelters and the need to improve conditions.