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Hyde Park, Woodlawn, South Shore

‘Blindsided’ By The City, Ald. Taylor Vows To Fight Mayor’s Plan To Place Migrants In Closed Woodlawn School

Some Woodlawn neighbors are worried adding more people to the community will lead to resources being spread thin in the area.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot takes questions at a press conference after a City Council meeting on Oct. 26, 2022.
Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
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WOODLAWN — The city is turning a closed Woodlawn school into a shelter for migrants — after previously saying that wasn’t in the cards.

Officials announced the change at a community meeting Wednesday night, saying 150 migrants will move into the former site of Wadsworth Elementary, 5420 S. University Ave., starting Jan. 6, according to CBS2. It’s “a slap in the face,” said Ald. Jeanette Taylor (20th).

The announcement came about two months after the Mayor’s Office told Taylor and neighbors the school would be turned into a shelter, with Taylor saying the city leaders hadn’t sought their input. After getting pushback from residents, the Mayor’s Office then said there were “no plans” to use the empty building for that purpose.

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Taylor said she feels “blindsided” by this week’s announcement.

“I don’t feel like it’s fair,” Taylor said. “They just pulled this in September and October without having conversation with me or the people I represent. And then to have this meeting during Christmas break, when a lot of people are still out. It’s not being transparent.

“We’re in a very difficult time right now, especially when it comes to Black and Brown solidarity. This just hurts even more.”

Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
Migrants disembark a bus at Union Station after a 25-hour-long ride from Texas on Sept. 9, 2022.

Thousands of migrants have come to Chicago since late August, with Texas Gov. Greg Abbott sending them on buses to Democrat-led cities as a protest of federal immigration policies. The buses slowed and stopped recently — until more migrants were sent to Chicago for Christmas.

The city expects the buses to continue, Chief Engagement Officer Nubia Willman told residents at Wednesday’s meeting, according to CBS2.

The city has struggled to find shelters for all the migrants, being forced to have them stay in motels in the suburbs at points. That’s led to friction with some suburban leaders.

But some Woodlawn neighbors are upset about the city’s plans, too: They are worried adding more people to the community will lead to resources being spread thin in the area, where residents are already fighting for access to food and transportation, Taylor said.

In the fall, before Lightfoot’s administration said it was reversing course on the plans to turn in the school into a shelter, CBS documented extensive renovations at Wadsworth. CBS also reported $1.5 million was being spent on rehab work at the school. Chicago Public Schools told the outlet it was just “routine maintenance work.”

“They’re implementing without asking again. They spent money on that school and ultimately, if people block it or we get a lawyer to put in an injunction, then what happens? Nobody wants to do that,” Taylor said.

Taylor thinks her residents’ concerns are valid, though she’s wiling to work with the city to place migrants in a part of the community where they won’t feel like strangers, she said.

Taylor said she plans to send letters — one to the community, another to City Hall — about what she heard and what the community expectation is for the shelter and city. Taylor said Lightfoot told her she’d “circle back soon.”

“If they don’t move the Jan. 6 date back, when my community is outside protesting, I’ll be right out there with them,” Taylor said.

The Mayor’s Office did not respond to a request for comment.