Migrants sleep outside as temperatures drop: 'We tremble from the cold'
CHICAGO (WLS) -- A biting winter wind sheers right through the gaping holes of plastic, draped together in the form of some sort of habitat.
The frigid air is entirely unfamiliar to men like Nelson from Honduras. And yet, for hundreds of men and women like him, "solertos," as they're called, or singles who arrived alone from the border, the cold is inescapable.
"We tremble from the cold. I don't have anything," Nelson said. "I would like to go back to Honduras, because this didn't serve me in any way. I came here, and I am living worse than I did in my home country."
Their best hope is hand warmer deliveries and wellness checks from volunteers like Lydia Wong.
"The fact that there was not shelter space available for people, who, in some districts, have been waiting months, stuck, while families come and go. Single men, single women continue to be there," Wong said. "It really leaves them in a place of significant injustice and inequity."
Meanwhile, despite a pending lawsuit and months of backlash, truckloads of gravel are starting to arrive at the lot at 38th and California to finally begin building the long-discussed winterized tent for a base camp that could temporarily house up to 2,000 migrants.
There was a lot of activity on the Brighton Park lot on Monday, but no construction work as of yet. Both the city and state told ABC7 that despite delays related to environmental concerns, they hope to begin work at 38th and California and on a second brick and mortar site in Little Village later this week.
"It's not the ideal, but it's better than outside today in the cold," said Matt DeMateo with New Life Centers of Chicagoland.
Contracted to deliver services to migrants at the soon-to-be shelter, DeMateo said New Life Centers will help those settled there to move out and into permanent housing as quickly as possible. It's the same job they will perform at a newly-announced brick and mortar shelter in Little Village, believed to be a shuttered CVS at 26th and Pulaski.
"The goal hopefully it will be up in the next two weeks to have a space and a place for people to be so details will be released likely in the next week," DeMateo said. "We assess on the road to stable housing, on the road map to TPS, and getting them jobs and getting them settled really building roots here in Chicago."
Construction on the Brighton Park site was initially believed to begin Monday, prompting residents, many of whom have been protesting the planned shelter for six weeks now, to gather there on Sunday and then again on Monday.
"Some towns in the state of Illinois are 2,000 people. Here, you're putting them in a condensed area and expect them to be OK," said longtime resident Alan Mercado.
According to the mayor's office, construction is being delayed in order to continue mitigation efforts on the land, which has long been known to be polluted.
"The city knowing it's polluted, why would you put people in harms way?" Mercado said.
Longtime 12th Ward sources told ABC7 a school at 38th and St. Louis was only constructed there after it was determined in 2008 that cleaning up the still-empty lot at California was too expensive to make it worth it.
"Mitigation strategies are ongoing and anticipated for completion by the end of this week, weather permitting. The city is confident that the property will be suited for the purpose for which it will be used," a spokesperson for the mayor said.
While both shelter sites there and in Little Village were identified by the city, it is the state that is shouldering the bill. Officials there said they hope to be up and running with both as early as mid-December.
This is all happening after two South Shore residents went in front of a judge on Monday. They filed a lawsuit against the city of Chicago and how officials are housing incoming migrants.
The lawsuit, brought on by Natasha Dunn and Jimmy Darrell Jones, is intended to stop Mayor Brandon Johnson and the city of Chicago from housing migrants in public parks, police stations, so-called tent camps and public schools, including South Shore High School.
The case will move on to another division of the court.