NORTH LAWNDALE — City officials quietly began housing asylum seekers at two local police stations again this week that had been cleared out amid sexual misconduct allegations against police officers.
On Wednesday, Block Club Chicago observed more than a dozen migrants in a cordoned-off area in the lobby of the Ogden (10th) Police District, 3315 W. Ogden Ave. At least one woman and two young children were among the people staying there. A tent was pitched in front of the station, where a few more people sat in the sweltering heat.
Asylum seekers also have been allowed to shelter again at the Town Hall (19th) District, 850 W. Addison St., in Lakeview, Mayor Brandon Johnson’s office confirmed. It wasn’t immediately clear how many people are staying at both stations.
“Because of the rising numbers and lack of space, the City of Chicago is once again utilizing the [Ogden] and [Town Hall] Police Districts,” Johnson’s office said. “The city of Chicago is focused on the safety of all Chicagoans, including our new neighbors. We are committed to working with CPD to ensure there are protocols in place to keep new arrivals at police stations safe while they wait for more adequate shelter.”
In July, the Civilian Office of Police Accountability opened an investigation after reports surfaced officers had engaged in “improper sexual relations” with immigrants staying at the West Side station. That included claims that an officer in the Ogden District raped an underage female migrant, the Sun-Times reported.
The agency notified the Chicago Police Department’s Bureau of Internal Affairs, which began its own investigation.
City officials moved swiftly the following day to move several people and their belongings out of the station. The Sun-Times reported at the time around 40 people were loaded onto two buses to be relocated.
As the oversight agency probed those claims, another allegation surfaced of “sexual misconduct” involving a migrant and one or more officers in the Town Hall District, COPA chief Andrea Kersten said in July. Asylum seekers also were moved out of that station at the time.
In a statement to Block Club on Wednesday, COPA First Deputy Chief Administrator Ephraim Eaddy said “COPA is not aware, has not been informed and has not weighed in on any decision regarding a return of migrants to the 10th district.”
Kersten previously said oversight agency officials had been unable to locate a victim in the sexual misconduct investigation, but the inquiry is ongoing, Eaddy said.
A police spokesperson separately confirmed the department’s Internal Affairs investigation into the 10th District allegations is also ongoing.
Elianne Bahena, a member of the 10th Police District Council, said at a recent meeting the Mayor’s Office had attempted to move asylum seekers back into that station last week. That was paused until signs from the police oversight agency could be posted in the station, Bahena said, citing mutual-aid volunteers who have helped local migrants.
Asylum seekers began staying at the 10th District again on Sunday, according to a source.
Eaddy did not directly address Block Club’s question about the volunteers’ claims.
“COPA routinely provides public information to city and community agencies as well as Chicago Police Departments regarding our agency and how to file complaints and compliments related to Chicago Police Officers,” he said in a statement. “Any public information, including signage at a Chicago Police District, is posted at the discretion of that district.”
Notices in English with information about COPA could be seen in the cordoned-off area of the lobby. No signs in Spanish about reporting misconduct were visible.
For more than a year, asylum seekers who’ve been sent to Chicago from Texas and other states have stayed at police stations while waiting for spots in the city’s overburdened shelter system.
More than 13,000 people, most from Central and South America, have arrived since last August, and buses are still arriving daily. As of Wednesday morning, there were 1,464 new arrivals waiting for spots in shelters, according to Johnson’s office.
Many migrants are from Venezuela, which has struggled with political upheaval and an economic crisis resulting in severe food and medicine shortages, surging inflation, rising unemployment and violent crime.
The demand for help has strained an already overloaded city shelter system, forcing hundreds of people to sleep on police station floors and in city-run shelters where some say conditions are concerning. Activists and elected officials have called for asylum seekers to be removed entirely from police stations citywide.
In an interview with Block Club last week, the mayor said he is “still very much committed to removing people from police stations and putting them into more sustainable, suitable shelters.” He declined to say when the city might have a plan for moving people out of police stations.
In its statement Wednesday, the Mayor’s Office reiterated Johnson’s commitment to moving people from police stations to shelters.
“This is an ever-growing humanitarian crisis that poses significant infrastructure challenges to an already overwhelmed shelter system, Chicago police districts, our city agencies, mutual aid partners, volunteers and community residents,” the statement read. “We remain committed to moving individuals and families from the police stations into shelters, putting them on a path to resettlement and self-sufficiency.”
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