Chicago migrant shelters overcrowded, pushed to their limit, aldermen say

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Saturday, January 20, 2024
Chicago migrant shelters overcrowded, officials say
As migrants continue to arrive in Chicago, some city officials say the shelters are overcrowded and 'bursting at the seams.'

CHICAGO (WLS) -- As migrants continue to arrive in Chicago, some city officials say the shelters are overcrowded and "bursting at the seams."

More equipment, including cots, were dropped off at the Loop migrant shelter at the shuttered Standard Club. When that shelter first opened it housed over 760 new arrivals; now there are more than 1,200. When the Gage Park Field House was converted into a shelter, residents were told it could hold up to 250 people; it currently houses almost 400.

"That shelter is bursting at the seams. We have the two original sides of the fieldhouse that were designated for men and women and then we had to open up additional space in the basement and in the cafeteria area to put more beds in," said 15th Ward Alderman Ray Lopez.

The city's largest shelter at a Pilsen warehouse was originally planned to house 1,000 new arrivals. It now holds 2,500.

"We have 15,000 people in shelters right now and the growing need has made it very difficult for the city to provide dignified conditions," said 25th Ward Alderman Byron Sigcho-Lopez.

Mutual aid groups including Southwest Collective have been talking to shelter residents as they distribute food outside the facilities. Executive Director Jaime Groth Searle said they tell her it's so crowded, illnesses are spreading easily.

"There is not enough space for people to quarantine, the second is the medical intake, it's taking too long for people to get seen and followed up with," she said.

Overcrowded shelters were expected; the city decompressed the police stations and during the cold weather, new arrivals have been moved out of warming buses at the landing zone.

Because the money is drying up, Mayor Brandon Johnson put a hold on opening new shelters and paused the 60 day shelter eviction policy until February 1.

"All of these shelters were designed to temporary and try to move people out and we've seen that come to a screeching halt with more bodies being sent here," Lopez said.

Aldermen and mutual aid groups fear if the city does not open new shelters soon this humanitarian crisis will turn into a humanitarian catastrophe.