City council committee examines conditions at shelters for Chicago migrants

Meeting comes after Mayor Brandon Johnson extends eviction deadline

Tuesday, January 30, 2024
City council committee examines conditions at Chicago migrant shelters
A Chicago City Council committee met to discuss conditions inside migrant shelters.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Mayor Brandon Johnson's administration has been given some breathing room as the number of migrant buses coming directly from Texas to Chicago has slowed down.

But over 15,000 new arrivals remain at the city's 28 shelters.

"Currently, of the population in shelters, half are eligible for state rental assistance, the other half no longer," said Deputy Mayor of Immigrant, Migrant & Refugee Rights Beatriz Ponce de Leon.

State rental assistance only applies to migrants who entered the system before Nov. 17.

Testifying before the Chicago City Council's Committee on Immigration and Refugee Rights, Johnson administration officials said not only do about 7,500 new arrivals not qualify for rental assistance, but only 1,000 have received work permits so far.

"So, what are we thinking with the 60 day policy? Do we need 90 days, 120?" asked 49th Ward Alderwoman Maria Hadden.

Some members of the public also pleaded with the city this Tuesday to expedite work permits for new arrivals.

RELATED: Mayor Brandon Johnson extends deadline for evicting Chicago migrants from city-run shelters

"No evictions for no one," Rosemary Vega said. "Shelters are a last resort. Let's make sure we do not throw people out of a shelter. Let's make sure we put a plan together to transition them to permanent housing. Let's get them permits."

Some alderpersons questioned whether Johnson's announcement Monday, extending the 60 day shelter eviction policy until March, provides enough time. Ponce de Leon said eviction notices do motivate migrants to leave.

"We did see as we gave out initial 60 days notices, people were able to move out more quickly. The state also worked on ramping up their resettlement efforts," Ponce de Leon said.

And with complaints about poor conditions at some of the bigger shelters, city officials testified they have put in place a rigorous grievance process for staff and shelter residents. Incident reports by staff average about 500 per week.

READ MORE | Migrant crisis: Chicago property owner opens vacant buildings to house nearly 500 asylum seekers

"What I felt good about is we actually do have some metrics and what the grievances look like, and I want to track that over time it seemed like a big number," said Committee on Immigration and Refugee Rights Chairman Alderman Andre Vasquez.

Back in December, some new arrivals reported unsanitary conditions at a South Side shelter, the same shelter where five-year-old Jean Carlos Martinez died after falling ill and where others were hospitalized.

Some members of the public commented at the meeting, calling on the city to keep it from happening again.

Meanwhile, since August of 2022, more than 35,000 migrants have arrived in Chicago. The city is providing shelter to more than 13,000 right now.

Besides testifying at monthly committee hearings, the Johnson administration said it will try to be as transparent as possible about the migrant crisis with continued briefings with alderpersons, the state and Illinois' congressional delegation.