CHICAGO — The City of Chicago is working to solidify housing plans for more than 1,000 asylum seekers and migrants who are currently being housed in police station lobbies across the city.
Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson plans to relocate nearly 1,600 migrants and asylum seekers to winterized base camps where they would be housed in large military-grade tents.
The mayor answered questions about plans to create tent-style housing for migrants and asylum seekers at an unrelated press conference Friday morning.
“We’ve identified multiple locations around the city that can be suitable to treat the families and individuals, who by law are seeking asylum constitutionally, legally, to have a place that recognizes their dignity,” Mayor Johnson said.
Over the past year, more than 13,000 asylum seekers have been bussed from Texas to Chicago, creating a humanitarian crisis in the city. While 16 shelters have been opened, hundreds of migrants are still without permanent housing, staying in police stations and terminals at O’Hare International Airport.
“My plan is to move with expediency, families out of police stations into housing and shelters that is more suitable,’ Mayor Johnson said.
The locations of the camps are currently in the works. Mayor Johnson is calling on alderpeople to help him figure out where to put the new housing.
“We’re all looking at our wards and land and it needs to be a flat plot of land because there is going to be a lot of security on hand as well and we’re working on it,” Alderman Timmy Knudsen said.
The tents will require a minimum of two acres and need to be on pavement or asphalt, so finding the right spot may be a challenge.
2nd Ward Alderman Brian Hopkins shared his reaction to the plan.
“It’s not a camping tent. These are structural tents, they have steel frames, they’re built to withstand even the windiest Chicago winter and they can be heated,” Hopkins said. “So this is something that is actually an incremental improvement from living on the floor of a police station lobby. But it is still not an adequate solution, it’s merely a bigger bandaid than what we’ve already been doing.”
During a closed-door briefing on Friday afternoon, Johnson shared details about the plan with alderpeople. According to the Mayor, operating 16 shelters across Chicago currently costs the city about $30 million a month. The mayor could not give specifics on how much the winterized base camps would cost, only stating that the funding would be shared by every level of government
“Look, I can tell you that the cost of inaction will be far more substantial,” Mayor Johnson said.
Both city and state leaders are calling out the federal government for not stepping up.
“The bottom line is this. We are in this predicament today because of the failure of the United States Congress and the president over 30 years to pass immigration reform in Washington. That’s why we face these extreme situations,” said Sen. Dick Durbin.
The city received a total of $30 million from FEMA to assist with the migrant crisis, but so far, the city has spent $116 million on housing asylum seekers and migrants.
Alderman Hopkins says if the plan for the camps moves forward, projections show costs for the city will exceed $300 million by the end of the year.
“This is not our responsibility. We need the federal government to step up and do their job and help us,” Hopkins said.
While the city’s shelters are currently at capacity, more migrants and asylum seekers are on the way
“We just found out that there are five more buses on their way from Texas right now and they’ll be arriving [Saturday]. With hundreds more people. No place to put them, no place to go. It just continues,” Hopkins said.