Chicago migrants battle elements as winter nears; many at police stations spend days outside

Chicago officials scrambling to erect winterized base camps as flurries fly, temperatures drop

Tuesday, October 31, 2023
Chicago migrants battle elements during 1st snowfall, many still outside during days
Chicago migrants sleeping at police stations often must stay outside during the day, posing real risks as temperatures drop and the first snow falls.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Thousands of migrants living outside police facilities are facing real dangers and risks as temperatures drop below freezing and snow squalls sweep through the city.

For many migrants, including some of those outside the CPD 3rd District station in Grand Crossing near 71st Street and Cottage Grove Avenue, this is their first encounter with cold weather. Many new arrivals are without heavy coats, gloves, boots and indoor shelter.

"The police station wasn't letting them inside during the day, we think that is changing but it's not happening at every police station," said volunteer Fran Zell.

As of Tuesday morning, more than 2,800 migrants are living outside police stations across Chicago, waiting to be placed into shelters as snow flurries fall around the area.

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Zell and other volunteers brought coffee and hot chocolate to migrants at the 3rd Police District on the South Side, where new arrivals must stay outside during the day.

The city also sent warming buses from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m. at 16 Chicago police districts.

Some kept their blood flowing with sidewalk soccer, but others huddled inside the station's entryway or inside tents. Volunteers say as the weather gets worse, living at police stations is no longer sustainable.

"We tell them how they can put tarps on the tents, we have Mylar blankets, but it's not very helpful. They need shelter," said Arcelia Guerrero, volunteer.

City leaders are still working on establishing so-called base camps, or massive military-style winterized tents, across parts of the city.

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Clothing donations and warming buses isn't enough, though. Plans for winterize base camps and more shelters are underway, but they are not coming fast enough to decompress the police stations.

City Council Immigration Committee Chairman Alderman Andre Vasquez said Governor JB Pritzker must call on other Illinois cities to help.

Right now, there are more than 11,000 migrants living in shelters across the city of Chicago.

"We know what Chicago winters feel like. We are going to see people get sick or worse. Anyone who has opportunities for shelter must step up," Vasquez said.

Zell has already seen migrants get sick as the temperatures drop.

"I was here the other night, somebody called an ambulance for himself and he was having symptoms. He didn't have a jacket, he had a virus," she said.

Until the base camps are built and more shelters become available, the city is asking for churches to step up and take in families, especially to get younger kids out of the cold.