The American Islamic College Campus will be converted into a temporary migrant shelter for newly-arrived asylum seekers. Credit: American Islamic College Website

CHICAGO — Hundreds of families seeking asylum who moved into two city college gyms earlier this summer are now living in an Uptown shelter.

Migrants previously staying at Wilbur Wright College, 4300 N. Narragansett Ave., and Richard J. Daley College, 7500 S. Pulaski Road, were moved over the weekend to the American Islamic College Campus in Uptown, 640 W. Irving Park Road, said Ald. Nick Sposato (38th) and volunteers.

The college campuses were two of the city’s short-lived summer shelters for the new arrivals that opened in May and June.

About 300 people lived inside Wright College’s gym and atrium for the summer, and 400 stayed inside Daley College’s gym. It wasn’t immediately clear how many migrants have been moved to the Islamic center, which can house 500 to 600 people

Buses began moving families from Wright College to their new temporary home Friday with everyone due to be in Uptown by Tuesday, Sposato and volunteers said.

The city’s contract with the City Colleges of Chicago to use Wright College and Daley College as migrant shelters ends Tuesday, Sposato said.

The campus center entrance to Wilbur Wright College, 4300 N. Narragansett Ave. in Dunning as seen May 15, 2023. Credit: Ariel Parrella-Aureli/Block Club Chicago

Mary May, a spokesperson with the city’s Office of Emergency Management and Communications, confirmed Monday the migrants from both colleges have been moved to the Uptown location. City officials don’t yet know how long the migrants will live at the center, May said.

The move was always part of the plan, since City Colleges students are set to return Aug. 24 and staff need to clean the building’s gym and atrium before then, officials previously said.

The Uptown shelter is being run by the Department of Family and Support Services with help from the Chicago Department of Public Health and safety protocols from police. Expected services include case-worker support, on-site security and medical services. Asylum seekers will also have access to three meals per day, Ald. Angela Clay (46th) said in an announcement to constituents.

The shelter at the American Islamic College is the latest temporary housing the city is arranging for asylum seekers and marks the latest turn in a historical college campus that is set for redevelopment into housing.

Once the site of Immaculata High School, the property was bought by the American Islamic College in 1983. The earliest buildings on the campus date to 1921.

Developers K Giles LLC and CA Ventures are proposing to turn the historic American Islamic College campus into a residential complex with a new, 22-story senior living tower. Credit: Courtesy Buena Park Neighbors/Perkins-Eastman

The private university provides undergraduate and graduate students programs rooted in Islamic values and history, according to their website

In recent years, the college decided to sell the building, and the city last year agreed to a plan to turn the campus into high-rise apartments and senior-living facilities. American Islamic College officials said they are looking for a new campus in Chicago but have not announced a new location.

It is unclear if work has begun on the college’s redevelopment.

The temporary shelter site is one of at least seven other temporary shelter locations in the two months. Broadway Armory Park in Edgewater and The Super 8 Motel in Rogers Park have also become temporary migrant shelters, bringing the total city-run shelter spots to 15.

Nearly 12,000 asylum-seekers have arrived to Chicago since last summer.

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Chicago has received 57 migrant buses since May 12, a city spokesperson told Block Club last week. Some migrants have flown in on one-way tickets, too.

Over 800 people are still living at police stations awaiting temporary housing, with another 100 at O’Hare Airport, the city spokesperson said.

“This is an ever-growing humanitarian crisis that Chicago has not experienced before, and that poses significant infrastructure challenges to an already overwhelmed shelter system,” the city spokesperson previously said. “All sites that have been identified as temporary shelters are ideal due to the large capacity it can serve; the facility is in good condition and available for activation within a short timeframe.”

Many migrants arriving in Chicago on buses are from Venezuela, which has struggled with political upheaval and an economic crisis resulting in severe food and medicine shortages, surging inflation and rising unemployment and violent crime. 

Chicagoans across the city have been divided on their opinions about the city’s handling of the crisis, drawing support and ire from neighbors over immigration rights, resource management and city transparency.

Last week, the city announced plans to work with nonprofit groups to operate some migrant shelters.