WEST LAWN — A Southwest Side college will be converted into a temporary shelter for newly arrived migrants, city officials said Thursday.
About 300 neighbors gathered Thursday at Richard J. Daley College, 7500 S. Pulaski Road, to hear the city’s plan to house up to 415 people in three college buildings, including the gymnasium. The crowd remained respectful throughout most of the meeting, but there were short outbursts at times.
People could begin moving in Saturday, and the temporary shelter would be active until Aug. 1, said Matt Doughtie, a coordinator with the Office of Emergency Management and Communications. Only families with children younger than 18 would be housed there, he said.
The shelter comes as Chicago faces a “humanitarian crisis” as Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and other Republican governors representing border states send Central and South American migrants to Chicago, pushing the city’s shelter system to its limit. Hundreds of migrants have been sleeping at police stations in recent weeks while the city has been trying to find large facilities to turn into shelters and respite centers.
There are eight city-run shelters, and they are all near or at capacity, Doughtie said. He said it’s unclear how long buses of people are expected to keep arriving, but the city is seeing about 85 people arrive every day.
Since August, 10,502 men, women and children have come to Chicago. About 4,500 people are staying in the city’s temporary shelters, and more than 600 are waiting in police stations for shelter space to become available.
A space like Daley College is ideal because it’s “move-in ready” and the city doesn’t have to pay rent since it owns the spot, Doughtie said.
Juan Salgado, City Colleges of Chicago chancellor, said Harry S. Truman College, 1145 W. Wilson Ave., temporarily housed migrants this winter, and it was an “extremely positive” experience.
The gym and atrium at Wilbur Wright College, 4300 N. Narragansett Ave. in Dunning, were converted into a shelter last week to house up to 400 people. Salgado said that is “going well” despite a mixed reaction from Northwest Side neighbors.
“The need to support newcomers continues to be significant,” he said. “This situation needs relief for the local police officers, for area residents who rely on our police officers, and for our new arrivals themselves.”
The city has received similar backlash to opening migrant shelters in the Woodlawn and South Shore communities. Three people were arrested in February while protesting the Woodlawn shelter and a group of South Shore neighbors sued the city last month to get them to stop converting a shuttered high school into a shelter.
People staying at the Daley College shelter will need to abide by city rules: No visitors, no illegal drugs or alcohol, they must check in and out at the front desk and must abide by an 11 p.m. curfew, said Christine Riley, director of homeless prevention with the city’s Department of Family and Support Services. City contractor SkyTech Security Services will provide 24/7 security at the building and police officers will patrol the area regularly.
Ald. Derrick Curtis (18th), whose ward includes Daley College, was one of the 13 alderpeople who voted against allocating $51 million in surplus funds to staffing, transportation and food at the city’s temporary migrant shelters. At Thursday’s meeting, he said he still has many questions about the city’s plan. He also said he was alerted about the city’s plan less than a week ago.
“There’s a lot of pros and cons about this,” Curtis said. “It’s not because I don’t want asylum-seekers here. But I have my issues still.”
Newly elected Ald. Jeylu Gutierrez (14th), whose ward is across the street from Daley College, said she understands people have different backgrounds and opinions on the matter, but it’s vital for the city to come together to help asylum-seekers.
“This is about being human and providing humane spaces for people,” she said. “They’re coming to seek opportunities like all of us here.”
Several people said they’re concerned about funding being used to help migrants rather than current residents who are in need.
“We do not take care of our own people,” one woman said. “If we’re going to work together, then we need to take care of everybody.”
One resident thanked Curtis for voting “no” on the $51 million funding for migrants and said there are Chicagoans still reeling from the economic impact of the pandemic who need support from the city.
“The rights that you are giving [migrants] are better than people that have been in shelters for years. My question is: When do citizens of the United States of America come first?” the man asked, leading to loud applause from the audience.
Riley said none of the money allocated to migrant shelters affects the city’s existing budget to address homelessness.
Some neighbors also criticized the city for adopting the plan regardless of community feedback.
“Who asked us our opinion on what we wanted to do here? No one,” one man said. “This decision was made even before we were notified about the community meeting.”
Despite the pushback from some neighbors, other said they support housing people at Daley College and encouraged others to come together in this crisis.
Jaime Groth Searle, executive director of the Southwest Collective, said community organizers have worked tirelessly to support newly arrived migrants and are running on fumes. She said in addition to temporary plans like housing people at Daley College, the city needs better housing and shelter infrastructure in general — like passing the Bring Chicago Home ordinance.
“We really need to start being proactive and less reactive,” she said.
Patrice Beamon, an 18th Ward resident, said she recently drove by the 6th District police station and saw people laying on the concrete outside and in the lobby. She urged her neighbors to think about how they can help.
“We’re trying to come up with solutions, but it’s not going to be solved by us attacking one another,” Beamon said, leading to applause from the crowd. “The most important thing is our humanity. When we lose that, we have lost everything.”
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