DOUGLAS — The vacant Near South Health Center will become the latest temporary shelter for migrants newly arrived to Chicago, city officials said Wednesday.
At a town hall meeting held by Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd) at the De La Salle Institute, 3434 S. Michigan Ave., city officials were met with strong backlash from community members who said they had received no notice of the plan.
The meeting was held less than 24 hours before city officials said they would likely start moving migrants into the shelter.
The Near South Health Center, 3525 S. Michigan Ave., will host up to 150 single male migrants, city officials said.
The Center will join 13 sites citywide — including colleges, closed schools, churches, and other buildings — serving as temporary shelters for migrants, officials said.
The expansion of migrant shelters follows an effort by Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas and other Republican governors to send buses carrying migrants to sanctuary cities like Chicago.
Matt Doughtie, manager of Chicago’s Office of Emergency Management and Communications, said 56 buses carrying migrants have arrived in Chicago since May 7, when busing resumed after a winter hiatus.
Over 11,000 men, women and children have arrived “homeless and without sponsors” since busing began in August, a fact sheet distributed at the meeting said.
Doughtie said due to a shortage of available shelter space, over 900 migrants were sleeping on the floors of Chicago police stations. That included families sheltering alongside single adults, he said.
“It is crucial that we separate our single adult population from our family population,” Doughtie said Wednesday.
Calls have grown louder in recent weeks for the city to move migrants out of police stations, especially following allegations of sexual abuse in at least two police districts. Migrants were moved out of the Ogden (10th) District station earlier this month after allegations surfaced that an officer raped an underage female migrant.
On Wednesday, the Civilian Office of Police Accountability said it has been unable to locate the victims of these crimes, but officials said the investigation was ongoing.
Doughtie said the Near South Side Health Center was an ideal location for a temporary shelter. He said the facility was well kept and that it would not demand a licensing or rental fee since it is a city-owned property.
Dozens of 3rd Ward residents showed up to voice their frustrations with the city for its decision to house migrants at the vacant health center, saying they’ve been left in the dark until the last possible minute.
“Having this meeting the day before you’ve already decided is absolutely disrespectful and rude,” one community member said to cheers.
“The community should have had some type of input about where you’re putting people in our communities,” another community member said to further cheers.
Neighbors across the city have said in recent weeks that the city needs to loop them in before deciding to bring a shelter to their community. But city officials said they are scrambling as more migrants arrive every day.
“As far as timing goes, in a perfect world, we would have more time before we moved in,” Doughtie said.
Some neighbors at the meeting complained that the city was taking resources away from other vulnerable communities in order to fund these shelters, which city officials denied.
Danny Castanedas, a representative from Chicago’s Department of Family and Support services, repeatedly stated that none of the resources used to establish temporary shelters or other forms of aid for newly arrived migrants cut into the resources of other city departments.
But some remained unconvinced.
“You say you’re not taking away resources, but you are. We live in the community and some of these resources, we can’t get,” one community member said.
Safety was also front of mind for many neighbors, who asked how the police and contracted private security officers would monitor single male migrants staying at the Near South Health Center.
Chicago Police Deputy Chief Stephen Chung said the health center was an ideal site from a public safety perspective, as it sits directly across from a combined police and fire station. Beat officers could immediately respond to any concerns, Chung said.
Chung also stressed that migrants staying at the shelter were subject to an 11 p.m. curfew and were forbidden from bringing drugs or alcohol into the facility. Migrants who repeatedly violated those rules would be transferred to another shelter, Chung said.
Tyrone Muhammad, an activist arrested earlier this year for attempting to block the arrival of migrants at Woodlawn’s Wadsworth School, repeatedly interrupted Wednesday’s meeting. Muhammad expressed concern that migrants would not be individually monitored when leaving the shelter, and worried that some might be “former gang members.”
Rey Wences, the city’s first deputy mayor of immigrant, migrant and refugee rights, stressed that all migrants going through the asylum process are given a background check by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and must demonstrate a “credible fear” of violence in their home country.
Doughtie acknowledged the lack of advance notice to neighbors, but said the situation was pressing.
“This is an urgent situation,” he said. “We needed to get in there yesterday.”
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