Others step up to house Chicago migrants after base camp plan scuttled, Pritzker defends decision

Friday, December 8, 2023
City Council to meet amid fallout from scrapped migrant camp plans
The Chicago City Council meeting Thursday will address work permits for migrants as the scuttled Brighton Park base camp is dismantled.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Chicago is sorting through a mess trying to figure out where to house hundreds of migrants who are currently living at police stations and airports.

The City Council is meeting Thursday for the first time since the state put a stop to Chicago's first migrant tent camp in Brighton Park.

City Council is also meeting to discuss a resolution involving getting migrants work permits.

Governor JB Pritzker said there were simply not other options than to shut down the Chicago migrant base camp in Brighton Park after the environmental report came back.

After the Brighton Park site, which would have housed 2,000 migrants in a military-style base camp was halted by the state after environmental concerns, a group of aldermen are calling for the firing of staff members from the Mayor Brandon Johnson's office over that debacle.

A vacant lot at 115th and Halsted streets is now another potential location for a base camp. City crews collected soil samples for testing last month and are awaiting results.

Questions are surfacing elsewhere after it became known the Archdiocese of Chicago is close to closing on a lease agreement with the city that will allow them to rent out two empty buildings, including a shuttered school, that are currently part of St. Bart's in Portage Park.

"I raised my family, my kids came to this school. My son was a star basketball player at St. Barts's," said Wally Prusko, longtime resident. "I really don't feel safe with any new strangers walking around the neighborhood."

A letter sent out by 30th Ward Alderwoman Ruth Cruz a few days ago made it clear the shelter will have 24/7 security and says in part, "The Archdiocese has taken the initiative to host migrants as early as mid-January 2024. The Department of Family and Support Services Staff are expected to manage the shelter's operations. The shelter can accommodate between 300-350 people."

"I just want to be positive about the situation, but you know. I'm a little nervous," said Sharon Avila, resident.

Thursday morning, a group of alder-people, faith-based leaders and local organizers said despite not having a place to house them, Chicago needs to continue to welcome migrants with open arms.

"The city is still very much committed to open up brick and mortar shelters," 26th Ward Alderperson Jessie Fuentes said. "We have opened up a shelter every eight days it's not going to stop."

"The border is wide open," 6th Ward Alderperson William Hall said. "Who's whoever will can come. For us to say we don't want anybody to sleep on a concrete mattress, that's all we are trying to do."

But again, there is still a shortage of places to put then. Thursday morning, 40 single men were moved from Englewood's 7th District police station and split between three local churches.

"These districts they have been living in they have found work in the community and have been kind of like adapting to the community. So we have found churches that are closer," said Pastor John Zayas, Grace and Peace Church.

One of them is Auburn Gresham's Greater Works Outreach Ministry, where 20 migrants will be temporarily housed. But even as they helped carry their cots in, thought is already on those who might soon be able to move into their own space.

"For those that are working and we are able to transition them from here to the apartments upstairs where they can actually have their own apartment," said Pastor Londale McNeal of Greater Works Outreach Ministry.

Governor JB Pritzker defended his decision to scuttle the Brighton Park location.

"We didn't know enough until you had the full report in hand. Because just making some speculation about it, I don't think would be a fair way to make an outcome given all that we've got in front of us," he said.

The state is now working with Gardaworld, the base camp contractor to spread out the cost of this project to others in order to save taxpayers some money.

Governor Pritzker said he's ready to move on from past failures and controversy as the state continues to work with the city to address the migrant crisis.

"This is not about whether somebody did something the other party didn't like. This is about move ahead. Deal with the challenges. Get the job done," the governor said.