About 200 Chicago migrants moving into shelter at former CVS in Little Village

Thursday, January 11, 2024
About 200 migrants moving into shelter at former SW Side CVS
As Chicago migrants move into a Little Village shelter at 27th and Pulaski, Gov. JB Pritzker is responding to the ongoing migrant crisis.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- It was back on Nov. 27 when the state of Illinois first announced they would convert the old CVS site into a migrant shelter. At the time, a mid-December opening date was given. It was few weeks, late but on Wednesday, the first migrants moved in.

The first group of migrants moved into the Little Village shelter early Wednesday afternoon. A huge tent structure now occupies a large part of what used to be a CVS parking lot located at 27th and Pulaski.

In announcing the opening, state officials said those moved here were coming from a Chicago hotel that recently been used as temporary shelter following a massive increase in the number of people arriving over the holidays.

"We're moving 200 people, families and others into it. I actually visited yesterday. It's phenomenal what we've been able to do in a very short period of time, to accommodate very young children, making sure these children have a place they can play, even in a very difficult situation," Pritzker said.

The long-promised temporary home in the heart of Chicago's Little Village neighborhood is finally sleeping migrant families, many with infants. Since Christmas Eve, they've been camped out at the hotel at O'Hare and under the care of New Life Centers volunteers.

"We moved about 100 this morning, and will be moving about 100 more tomorrow," said New Life Centers Director of Community Care Eduardo Fuentes.

The operations are contracted and run by GardaWorld, but nonprofit volunteers helping to staff the humanitarian services at the shelter say this is what makes the newest facility different.

"We are offering classes. We are offering anything from trauma-based education, culture training. We are offering anything that has to do with being able to build their knowledge around the culture, around Chicago, around the U.S.," Fuentes said.

As of Wednesday morning, there were 550 migrants awaiting shelter placement in Chicago. Over half of them are living on CTA warming buses parked at the South Loop landing zone, where work continues on the raising of six tents that will be used to provide services to those who continue to arrive.

"We're talking about the human aspect of it these are people. They are escaping hardship. They are moving to the United States to find a better life. At the same time though, they are new neighbors. How are you going to act with a neighbor that moved in next door?" said 21st District State Rep. Edgar Gonzalez.

This comes as volunteers working at the landing zone for new arrivals in Chicago say not enough is being done to help asylum seekers. On Wednesday, Gov. JB Pritzker weighed in on the state's response to the crisis.

As volunteers working at the landing zone for Chicago migrants say they need more help, Gov. JB Pritzker weighed in on the state's response to the crisis.

"We are doing what we think is the right thing to do, to keep people safe and alive especially during harsh winter," Pritzker said.

Answering questions for the first time in several weeks, Pritzker said the state continues to work with the city to manage the never ending crisis, but volunteers serving up meals at the landing zone on Wednesday say it is not enough.

"Those are not paid meals by the city. Those are donations .We just finished feeding 300 to 400 people," said Claudia Strong, a Mutual Aid volunteer.

There are hot meals for new arrivals living on CTA buses at the landing zone, Chicago's first point of entry has hundreds of migrants waiting for a shelter bed.

Volunteers who worked for months at the police stations are worried about the care migrants are getting at the landing zone, which is being operated by the city's Office of Emergency Management. On Wednesday, a sick migrant was taken by ambulance to the hospital.

The warming buses are full. Some people have been living and sleeping on the buses for several days.

"Migrants are reporting to many volunteers, or people are screaming for help, 'We haven't eaten. We haven't showered.' I see kids with no socks and blankets,'" Strong said.

When asked about the conditions at the landing zone, Pritzker said he is working with the city to identify more shelters. Pritzker said without more federal aid soon, Springfield may have to provide more money.

"I do think it's going to be important to deal with costs here that are rising all the time," Pritzker said.

Mayor Brandon Johnson will meet next week with regional mayors to discuss a strategy for handling new migrant arrivals.

Pritzker also said on Wednesday that the state continues to work with the city and the Archdiocese to identify further locations that can be used as shelters for those arriving. Since Dec. 1, 200 buses have arrived in cities and villages outside the city.