Pilsen building owner steps up when CPD station runs out of room for migrants in Chicago

12th District Chicago Police Station had to turn people away

Wednesday, May 10, 2023
Downtown Chicago hotel housing migrants amid surge
A downtown Chicago hotel is housing migrants amid a surge.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- The 12th District Chicago Police Station ran out of room, so one local alderman coordinated a plan, and a building owner stepped up, donating a vacant commercial space in the Pilsen neighborhood to migrants who have nowhere to go.

Families, including babies and small children, are being housed in the space for the time being, hailing from countries like Peru, Guatemala, Venezuela, Columbia and Nicaragua.

Alderman Byron Sigcho-Lopez said he was getting calls on Monday and Tuesday about the 12th District police station turning migrants away because the lobby was full, so he started calling stakeholders in the Pilsen community to help provide food and shelter and help re-locate them.

"We had babies, a 3-month-old baby, several minors, children already waiting over a week for shelter; it was just inhumane what we're witnessing," the alderman said.

The alderman was able to move 70 migrants Tuesday night from that police station into the vacant commercial space.

"The city did not provide any alternatives, and they were going to be bused yet again to another police station, so at that point we reached out to our communities. We are very thankful for the kindness and generosity of the community," said Sigcho-Lopez, of the 25th Ward.

Last week, about 100 migrants were arriving in Chicago each day. This week that number has doubled.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot signed an emergency order Tuesday, saying Chicago is stretched to the breaking point.

The order allows the city to make emergency purchases.

It also allows the city to request National Guard members from the state, but the mayor is holding back for now.

Also on Tuesday, a City Council committee approved $51 million for migrants' assistance.. The move goes to full Council later this month.

Alderman Pat Dowell chairs the Committee on Budget and Governmental Affairs.

"It clearly is not enough money to address the crisis that we have going on in the city, getting between 100 to 150 new migrants a day," Dowell said.

Dowell said she is troubled to see the situation and wants to see more help from the federal government and corporations.

Dowell said as of Tuesday, 450 people were staying in the lobbies of Chicago police stations.

"To sleep on a floor of a police station is inhumane, and we have to treat people the way you want to be treated," she said. "You've got to be able to take care of those newly arriving people and also the ones who are here."

She said they are starting a supply drive in the ward to help the new arrivals, as well as Chicagoans who are struggling.

Meanwhile, a pandemic-era federal policy called Title 42 is set to expire Thursday, which could bring thousands more asylum seekers to Chicago.

Doug Wynne is the building owner who donated his vacant space in the Pilsen community. He said he sees how serious the situation is.

"I'm happy to let them borrow the building, but I go, 'where's the food?' So I had to run out and buy food. Now the social services have kicked in, and it's helping out, but the lack of coordination from the feds to the state from that state to our city is ridiculous," Wynne said.

Sigcho-Lopez is urging the city to open park district field houses and empty schools.

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But those options have been met with opposition from many city residents.

More beds arrived at a downtown hotel Wednesday, which is now offering shelter to 1,200 new arrivals, according to a city spokesperson for the Office of Emergency Management.

Some staying there, who endured dangerous treks from Venezuela, said families are sharing rooms. Others nearby said they were turned away and told to go to a local police station.

The city of Chicago issued a statement Wednesday, saying:

"Chicago continues to receive new arrivals and tend to their immediate needs. This humanitarian crisis has required collective and swift action, which is why the City has partnered with a variety of City departments, Aldermen, community-based organizations, and community leaders to identify sites to serve as temporary respite centers and temporary shelters to address this recent surge in new arrivals. Since August 31, 2022 the city has taken in 8,596 new arrivals, this includes the 48 individuals who arrived on a bus from Texas yesterday. The City is currently working to alleviate the number of migrants at CPD stations and busing them to temporary shelters and respite centers as space becomes available. The Inn of Chicago is being used as a temporary shelter and is currently housing 1,203 new arrivals as of this morning."