Migrants sleep outside as temps drop; committee approves acquisition of Morgan Park shelter site

Thousands of asylum-seeks forced to sleep on sidewalks as cold weather arrives

Tuesday, October 31, 2023
Thousands of migrants forced to sleep outside as temperatures drop
On Monday night, thousands of asylum-seekers were stuck sleeping on sidewalks all over the city as temperatures plunged toward freezing.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- On Monday night, thousands of asylum-seekers were stuck sleeping on sidewalks all over the city as temperatures plunged toward freezing.

It is the situation both migrants and city leaders feared.

It's the coldest most of the migrants have ever been. Some Venezuelan natives seeking asylum in Chicago are, for now, stranded on the sidewalk, wrapped only in donated winter coats, hats and gloves. All of this feels completely foreign to them.

Without showing his face on camera, one asylum-seeker, Misael, spoke with ABC7.

"Yes, it's been and is very cold. We are finding out that it is going to snow, and we are hoping they get us out of here as soon as possible," Misael said.

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Misael and his cluster of sidewalk neighbors have been there for a month and a half, sleeping with just the protection of plastic and anything they can find.

"I don't have kids, but there are families here with two, three, four kids. They are inside and outside," Misael said.

To deal with the cold in the short-term, the city is now providing warming buses at 16 police stations, where more than 3,300 migrants are currently staying, as well as at the landing site near Union Station, where the buses bringing the migrants to Chicago arrive.

"We're doing our best to get as many as possible and have them out there for the hours that we need right now. It's definitely a short-term emergency measure," said Deputy Mayor for Immigrant, Migrant and Refugee Rights Beatriz Ponce de Leon said.

"We need more than the warming buses, but we need to take everything we could get, right? You've got folks out in front of the police stations, like in literal small tents, so not anything insulated, not a lot of warmth. So I think, I think right now the conversations among who has units for folks to sleep in buildings, anything at all, would be helpful. So, the warming buses are definitely welcome," 40th Ward Ald. Andre Vasquez said.

City leaders have been scrambling for weeks, trying establish so-called base camps, which massive, military-style winterized tents, like those that have already been built in New York.

With cold weather moving in, the Chicago City Council is looking to move ahead with plans to acquire land for an additional shelter for asylum-seekers.

A committee has approved the acquisition of a Morgan Park site at 115th and Halsted for migrants in Chicago; the full Council will vote Wednesday.

At issue Monday morning before the Committee on Real Estate and Housing were plans to turn an empty South Side property into a shelter for migrants, despite concerns by the alderman and members of the community.

"We are definitely in communication with them as much as we can and we are always open to meeting with the community sharing the plans hearing from them tweaking the plan if we need be but we are living a moment of crisis and urgency," said Ponce de Leon.

The property in question is a former grocery store site at 115th and Halsted streets, where the city wants to set up a base camp tent shelter for migrants.

On Monday morning, the committee approved acquiring that property, which is being donated by Albertsons.

Alderman Ronnie Mosley, who represents the 21st Ward, remained frustrated about what's he called the lack of information from the mayor's office.

"We deserve to hear directly from the mayor's office about what this plan is for the site, how will residents will be kept safe, how will our infrastructure be able to carry this burden and what's the commitment to our own community," Mosley said. "I haven't been given timelines about what this looks like, when they'll be on the site, how long they'll be on the site, what this means for safety for our community, what this means for our schools. There are just multiple questions that I don't have the answers for."

The community concerns centered on how this might affect the plans for an affordable housing development on that very site, where construction was set to begin next year.

"That housing development with commercial and retail space, and also just open space and entertainment, provides a catalyst for the economic engine that we need to stabilize our community," Mosley said.

"Were looking to do both, and and as they said, and I think all of these developments, some of them will be temporary and in some communities. They will be longer term and be returned back to the community for other purposes," Ponce de Leon said.

The mayor's floor leader tried to allay concerns.

"People are able to see that these shelters are safe. People are able to see that they're accomplishing what they're set out to accomplish. And it's a short-term measure, right? That migrant shelter is not going to be there long-term; long-term what's going to be there is the Morgan Commons, and the Morgan Commons is going to be a housing development," 35th Ward Ald. Carlos Ramirez Rosa said.

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Also on Monday, downtown Alderman Brendan Reilly sent a letter to constituents, claiming the city was looking to convert the Hotel Chicago in River North into a migrant shelter, something the mayor's office denies, and the hotel said it had no information about.

The full city council is expected to approve the Morgan Park land acquisition on Wednesday. What's not clear at this point is when construction on the tent base could begin.

The mayor's office said Monday morning that the property would first need to be reviewed, and that could take approximately a week. After that, it could take approximately two weeks to get the base camp set up.

The mayor's office also made an appeal to the philanthropic community for donations to help cover some of the costs for housing and caring for migrants. Ponce de Leon said there was not a specified goal, but the city is looking for millions of dollars in help.

Mosley also released a statement early Monday that said:

"I'm highly disappointed by the City's intention to move forward with plans to erect a temporary asylum-seeking shelter on 115th and Halsted, despite community concerns. Last month, after our community expressed multiple concerns about this shelter, I co-sponsored ordinances that addressed these concerns and advocated for Aldermen to receive a 30-day notice of intentions to house migrants in their communities. Unfortunately, those have not yet passed.

"The 21st Ward will not tolerate the prioritization of a crisis over our needs and voices! Here is what I'm demanding from this administration. We need a full commitment to break ground on the Morgan Park Commons housing development in 2024 at the same site of the proposed shelter. I am also demanding support to complete the Beverly Ridge housing development and the capital improvements required at Julian High School and investments in the beautification of our ward.

"The administration says we can service Chicagoans and Asylum-Seekers in need. Consequently, I am calling for the 21st Ward to have a temporary shelter for Chicagoans so residents of this community can become more housing secure.

"Alongside these commitments to our community, it is still imperative that the City of Chicago and the State of Illinois continue to press the federal government for the necessary emergency resources to assist in this crisis. It's painful to know that there are millions of federal dollars and resources available but not given, forcing our city to attempt to solve a nationwide issue with strained resources.

"There are still many questions about safety, timelines, and care for our own residents that have not been answered. The 21st Ward deserves answers to these questions, and I will continue to fight for a true commitment to and investment in our community from this administration."