Chicago to house migrants sent from Texas in park district fieldhouses, unused school building

City officials booed, shouted down at meeting on migrants
City of Chicago officials were booed and shouted down at a South Shore meeting on respite housing for migrants arriving in Chicago, which has reached a crisis point.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Chicago's migrant crisis continues to grow more serious as thousands arriving from the border and the city is struggling to help them.

Over the last three weeks, city officials said Chicago has seen a 10-fold increase in migrant arrivals, which had slowed to a trickle following the initial months when busloads were arriving on what seemed like a daily basis. Financial resources are scarce. State money allocated to shelter the thousands already here has run out, and federal dollars have been slow to trickle down.

"I'm hoping to really see a turn because it's show time, the emergency is here after May 12th, we will see a surge of tens of thousands of people at the border we don't have time," said 49th Ward Ald. Maria Hadden.

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But the city is running out of resources and space to house them, so asylum seekers have been sleeping in public spaces like police stations for weeks.

There are also plans to send migrants to an old school building at 76th and Constance in the South Shore. The building has been vacant since 2014, but community members said they feel the move will be detrimental to the surrounding neighborhood.

"We are not inhumane to people's plight. But we are looking at the reality of the world we live in and we think it's irresponsible to take a people whose community is already in disarray and place additional people without resources," said Brian Mullins of the Black American Voter Project.

In South Shore, where community leaders have spent the better part of a decade fighting to get the old school building repurposed, the sudden move to place incoming migrants there feels like a slap in the face.

"We're very active and engaged in this community and it just doesn't fit well to have a group of migrants to descend on this particular area because it's a transient situation. We have stability here. We're not comfortable with the crime on 75th, but to add migrants to that, it's overwhelming," said Natasha Dunn of the Black Community Collective.

At a meeting with city leaders in South Shore Thursday evening, residents responded with resounding rejection.

"While this may constitute an emergency for the city of Chicago it does not constitute an emergency for me and the 8th Ward," said Ald. Michelle Harris.

City leaders could barely eke out a word of the details about the proposed respite center before attendees started booing and demanding to vote. They expressed concerns about whether migrants have had background checks, considering there are some home daycares in the area.

"These are families," said Nubia William, the city's chief engagement officer. "They are asylum seekers."

Chicago police officials also promised there would be officers at the respite center 24/7, exactly the kind of services residents say they've begged for and been denied.

"All of a sudden we have deep pockets for people who don't pay taxes," said one attendee. "I understand helping people, but you start with your own home."

"I think it would be fair for every homeless immigrant that you bring in, that you scoop up a homeless here," another attendee said.

A plan is also in place to move some of them into Park District fieldhouses, like one at Brands Park in the 3200-block of North Elston Avenue.

The problem is that the families that use fieldhouse services, like for daycare and summer programs, were not informed.

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Parent Michael Busking said when they asked, "The staff here was given virtual no notice. They were told at like 1 o'clock to clear your stuff, we are sending migrants to your facility."

The city's plan would be to have the school building not become a shelter, per se, but a first stop for arriving migrants while temporary shelter space becomes available.

As funding runs dry and migrants sleep on the floors of police stations, some Chicago officials are criticizing city leadership for having no real plan to address the crisis.

When asked how many park district buildings would be used to house migrants, and how many families needed to make new plans, the district responded with this statement saying in part, "In partnership with the City of Chicago's efforts to provide respite to asylum seekers the Chicago Park District will temporarily relocate spring programming from Brands Park to alternate locations. The District understands the importance of these programs to the families we serve and is committed to the continuity of these vital services. All registered participants have been notified of the temporary relocation and will be accommodated."

Mayor-elect Brandon Johnson refuse to answer questions about migrants at two events on his public schedule Thursday, but Ald. Hadden said she hopes his plan will involve getting every ward involved.

"When you have people say no you can't use this space in my ward, no you can't use this space in my area, when you have folks in the city that don't have the authority to override that, you end up with all of us not working together the way we should," she said.

Busking said he and the other families here want to support the migrants as best they can and are open to them staying here. They just wish they were given a little more time to plan accordingly.

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"The parents at the school want to be supportive, and are trying to find out how they can help the park district was short on their communication and not giving any notice," Busking said.

In a statement, city officials said in part, "As a welcoming city, Chicago continues to receive new arrivals and tend to their immediate needs. We are in the midst of a national humanitarian crisis and have been collaborating with City departments, Alderpeople, community-based organizations, and community leaders to identify temporary respite sites, including Chicago Park District and other public facilities, where new arrivals can wait for shelter placement. This is part of the City's efforts to prepare for an expected influx of new arrivals."

A meeting will be held by the mayor's office Thursday at 6 p.m. at the South Shore International College Preparatory High School. The public can provide their feedback about the issue.

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Many volunteers are working to ensure new migrants arriving in Chicago are fed, clothed and sheltered.

Even as city officials and residents argue over where to house the incoming migrants, many volunteers are working to make sure they are fed, clothed and sheltered when they arrive.

Pastors with the House of Restoration in Elgin came to Englewood Thursday, bringing food and supplies for new arrivals.

Carolina Gil has been living in the Englewood police department lobby for 13 days with her husband, sister-in-law and daughter. They left Venezuela at the end of February, and while the journey has been difficult she said she does not regret making it because things are so bad back home.

Carlos Pinto said he was a police officer in Venezuela. He came to the United States with his wife and young son. The boy was so sick, officers took the family to the hospital to get medicine. Pinto said he and his family trained for careers, but there was no future in Venezuela. Here, they hope to work.

For some helping the new arrivals, the situation is difficult to witness. Pastors Luzy and Pedro Gomez said they see things getting worse.

"There's too much pointing fingers. The problem is here now, let's not be part of the problem, let's be part of the solution," Pastor Lucy Gomez said.

"To see this group practically on the streets, in the stations, in the airports, there's no reason for this. These are lives who should be treated with dignity also," Pastor Pedro Gomez said.