Chicago migrants stressing the city's bottom line, contributing to 2024 budget deficit

ByChuck Goudie and Barb Markoff, Christine Tressel, Maggie Green, Adriana Aguilar and Tom Jones WLS logo
Friday, September 22, 2023
Migrant crisis stressing Chicago's bottom line
The cost of the Chicago migrant crisis is more than a third of a projected $538 million deficit in the 2024 budget, the Johnson administration said.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- As migrants flood Chicago, the city is suffering a stressful surge. With a $538 million budget deficit projected for 2024, more than a third of that gap is tied to the migrant crisis. As we close in on winter, proposed new tent cities to house new arrivals are stretching city departments, including Chicago police.

"I don't think the Chicago Police Department has the resources to deal with this problem," said Ed Farrell, ABC7'law enforcement expert and owner of Silver Star Protection Group.

More than 10,000 migrants are living in temporary shelters around the city, and close to 1,500 are housed in police stations.

"Anybody who drives by a police station. Look at it. That's not what police stations were set up to do. Law enforcement officers did not sign up to be adjunct, you know, public housing managers. Those police stations are not only inhumane in terms of the way that they are set up but they also are not able to focus on what they are supposed to do as law enforcement officers," said Cristina Pacione-Zayas, First Deputy Chief of Staff for the City of Chicago.

Mayor Brandon Johnson recently announced a plan to move people out of police stations and into prefabricated shelters similar to ones used in New York.

"My question is, if you put them in the tent in winter, when they're not going to be able to go outside, what are the rules and who's going to enforce rules," said Farrell.

"I see the train crash coming ahead. Because we're heading into budget season, and we have to figure out how do we build the capacity needed while we're also looking at a deficit," said 40th Ward Ald. Andre Vasquez who chairs the Committee on Immigrant and Refugee Rights.

That $538 million budget gap includes $200 million in costs to support immigration in Chicago. Even with a newly approved $33 million federal grant, it's not enough.

"This budget challenge is going to pale in comparison to future budgets," said Ald. Vasquez.

"We are looking at, you know, all different types of revenue streams to be able to close this gap," said Pacione-Zayas.

An I-Team data analysis reveals through mid-August, $83 million in Chicago taxpayer dollars have been spent on this crisis.

Three companies received the largest share of funds, comprising 94% of the total invoiced amount.

Favorite Healthcare Staffing received $56.3 million, Equitable Social Solutions, LLC received $12.6 million and Open Kitchens, Inc. received $9.4 million

"We've challenged our staffing contract firm to bring their price point down. We understand that there's a premium that's being paid because they're recruiting from all over the country," said Pacione-Zayas.

Chicago is spending about $5 million dollars per week. More migrants are coming.

"It used to be around 40 average people coming in daily. Now it's north of 100. The amount of infrastructure we need to actually be a welcoming city and welcoming state is really more than any city can take on," said Ald. Vasquez.

"If we are receiving individuals from the state of Texas via plane paid for by FEMA dollars, with no confirmed sponsor, why is FEMA not sending us more dollars?" said Pacione-Zayas.

As temperatures drop, migrant housing problems are predicted to rise.

"We need to be looking at, I believe, acquiring and rehabilitating properties to bring online to be shelters," said Ald. Vasquez. "Because ultimately when this is all said and done and we get to some level of equilibrium, those become assets."

"All of these options are on the table," said Pacione-Zayas. "These are prefabricated structures. We are still assessing locations. The process to stand them up: 96 hours. That's all we need."

All this is happening with a constant undercurrent of police and security concerns.

"We have looked at it, and obviously a deep partnership with the police department, right? Making sure that they have awareness that a shelter is in place, and that we would likely, you know, want to have some additional kind of vigilance and monitoring," said Pacione-Zayas.

"That's going to create tension I'm concerned about," said Ald. Vasquez.

"They already feel like they're overworked. They're undermanned. And now we're asking to do more with less," said Farrell.

City officials say safety committees, that will include CPD, will be put together to deal with public security at the new base camps once they are erected. The $29 million contract with Garda World to build and manage those camps was signed last week. The total cost of the migrant crisis is projected to hit a quarter of a billion dollars by the end of the year.