CHICAGO — In the past few weeks, the City of Chicago has proposed several solutions to housing the recent influx of migrants, including winterized tent facilities.
Nearly 2,900 migrants are awaiting shelter placement at police stations around the city amid winter temperatures that crept up on Tuesday, but for many, the process has felt confusing and difficult.
“I’ve seen people standing outside because the inside interiors are all full. They have really flimsy plastic sheeting that they are using to cover themselves from the elements. Anything that we can do as an alternative to them waiting outside is a critical response that the city needs to enact as soon as possible,” Aimee Hilado, an Assistant Professor at the University of Chicago Crown Family School of Social Work, said.
The City of Chicago signed a contract with the company Garda World in mid-September to build the tent camps, but construction has yet to begin as winter weather hits the city.
The process of finding shelter space has been difficult for the city, and plans to convert existing buildings into shelters can fluctuate, leaving those in need in the dark.
“There’s just a severe lack of transparency, accountability and community input,” Alderman Silvana Tabares (23rd) said.
According to Tabares, the city is reconsidering an old Kmart store near Ford City Mall as a shelter. Tabares said the parking lot at 7000 South Pulaski in West Lawn would also serve as a tent base camp site, a proposal that was previously scrapped back in February.
“They are looking at the site again. It was deemed unsafe. Now the city is changing its course. So it raises serious questions as to how they are making their decisions,” Tabares said.
Currently, there are 24 active temporary shelters across the city. From Park District buildings to a Super 8 motel, the city is scrambling to find indoor space.
“This is an international humanitarian crisis that has landed on our doorstep,” Cristina Pacione-Zayas, Mayor Johnson’s Deputy Chief of Staff, said. “Local governments were never designed or have the infrastructure to comprehensively meet the moment and beyond.”
There are currently two other proposed sites for tent base camps.
One is in a vacant lot at 115th and Hasletd in Morgan Park, once home to a Jewel-Osco. The 6.5-acre location, which is awaiting approval from the full council, would house 1,400 migrants.
The second proposed site is a 10-acre lot in Brighton Park at 38th and California, where up to 2,000 migrants would live. The city is set to conduct environmental testing throughout the week to see if it is a viable site.
While the clock ticks and temperatures dip, time is of the essence.
“Anything we can do as an alternative to them waiting outside is a critical response the city needs to enact as soon as possible,” Hilado said.
Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson has not spoken about the issue and did not take any media questions at his events this week.