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Chicago Needs More Shelters And Federal Money As Thousands Of Migrants Are Arriving, Mayor Says

Some migrants have to wait days at police stations as officials look for shelter for them, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said. She's expecting even more new arrivals with a change in federal policy.

Migrants were temporarily stationed in the hallway near the O’Hare CTA Blue Line station before being taken to shelters on a bus on April 26, 2023.
Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
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CHICAGO — The city has seen a recent influx of thousands of migrants coming here in need of shelter and aid, with even more expected to come soon — but Chicago’s shelters are already full, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Friday.

Some migrants are having to “wait for days” at police stations as officials look for housing for them, Lightfoot wrote in a Friday letter to City Council. About 40 people were seen Wednesday sleeping outside of a homelessness center at O’Hare Airport after they arrived on one-way flights from Texas.

With the migrant crisis poised to hit a new peak, Lightfoot asked alderpeople to work with local leaders and groups to identify sites in the neighborhoods that can be turned into shelters. Since August, more than 8,151 migrants have arrived in the city, Lightfoot said in a letter.

RELATED: AFTER THE BUSES: Meet The Migrants At The Center Of Texas’ Manufactured Crisis

The city has evaluated 200 potential buildings that could be used as temporary shelters to house at least 250 people, Lightfoot said in the letter. Officials have for months worked to turn closed schools and other facilities into shelters for migrants — sometimes to the consternation of neighbors and alderpeople who have felt left out of the process.

It seemed the migrant population had stabilized in early April, and city officials were working on matching individuals and families with more permanent housing, Lightfoot said.

But there’s been an increase in migrants being flown into O’Hare in recent days, with little communication or coordination from the agencies sending them here, Lightfoot said. That’s “exhausted” the city’s shelters, which are at capacity, she said.

Since shelters are full, newly arrived migrants can’t be placed somewhere until a bed clears up.

“New arrivals sometimes wait for days at local police facilities waiting to be sheltered,” Lightfoot said. “This puts an additional burden on our law enforcement officers who are not equipped to address the myriad of needs of these migrants while they await transport to more appropriate facilities.”

In her letter to alderpeople, Lightfoot asked for their help in identifying potential sites that could be used as shelters.

City Council committees focused on the city’s budget and on immigrant and refugee rights met Friday morning to talk about the mounting crisis and funding needed to help migrants, according to ABC7.

The first stage of the crisis begin in August, with Texas and other states sending thousands of migrants to Chicago and other Democrat-controlled cities in protest of federal policies.

But it’s yet to become clear what’s fueling this new wave. Many of the migrants seen Wednesday at O’Hare said they were given the free flights while staying in a shelter in San Antonio. They were given transportation to shelters across Chicago.

RELATED: Migrants Sent On One-Way Flights From Texas Sleeping At O’Hare As City Scrambles To Find Them Shelter

With the impending expiration of Title 42, which kept people from crossing the border due to public health concerns, Lightfoot said the city is expecting even more new arrivals to come to Chicago.

“As members of the City Council and as leaders in this City, you will have to make some
very important decisions in the coming weeks,” the mayor wrote to alderpeople. “… We are a nation of immigrants, and it is our responsibility to continue to welcome new Americans with the utmost dignity, respect, and care.”

Other cities like New York City and Washington, D.C., have experienced a similar situation and need for funding. The struggle to fund housing and other aid for migrants cannot be “Chicago-led,” Lightfoot said.

“This is national crisis that requires a national response,” Lightfoot said in her letter.

Chicago has received — and used — $5.5 million from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and has made repeated requests for more funding, Lightfoot said

“We urge our federal and state partners to do more to support this mission with additional funding and resources and ask that you also join us in this call to action,” she said.

In March, City Council members accepted $20 million in funding from the state to help with housing and transporting migrants despite pushback from some leaders who said the city should be prioritizing supporting longtime residents.

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