The site of a proposed migrant shelter, 526 N. Western Ave., in Ukrainian Village Credit: Quinn Myers/Block Club Chicago

UKRAINIAN VILLAGE — Officials are holding a community meeting this week to share details about a proposed shelter in Ukrainian Village that could soon house asylum seekers.

The city has identified an industrial building at 526 N. Western Ave. for the shelter, according to a map on a city data portal and Ald. Gilbert Villegas (36th), whose ward includes the site.

The meeting will be held 6-8 p.m. Thursday at Chopin Elementary, 2450 W. Rice St., by Villegas, Mayor Brandon Johnson’s office and the Chicago Police Department.

The meeting comes as the city is facing a massive influx of migrants, many of them bused here by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s administration and other border state politicians.

Since August of last year, the city has received more than 18,000 migrants, the vast majority of whom have arrived since May, according to city data.

The number of buses carrying migrants to Chicago exploded over the spring and summer, with 295 of 395 total buses arriving since May 12.

The surge has overwhelmed city shelters, forcing officials to set up more than 20 temporary facilities — and to house thousands of asylum seekers on the floors of police districts across the city.

A flier for a community meeting regarding a new shelter to house asylum seekers in Ukrainian Village Credit: Provided/Ald. Gilbert Villegas

Buses continue to arrive in Chicago at accelerated rates. Last week, the city saw 47 buses arrive between Wednesday and Sunday alone, according to data provided by a city spokesperson.

Reached by phone Friday, Villegas said he’s received few details from Johnson’s administration about the Ukrainian Village facility, which the city’s new arrivals data portal refers to as “Western Shelter.”

Villegas said he’s waiting for additional information from the mayor’s office, but may not learn more until neighbors do at Thursday’s meeting.

“As of today, I don’t have details as relates to how many people are going to be sheltered, what are the plans to provide wraparound services, whether it’s singles or families, how they’re going to be interacting with local schools, the parks, etc.,” he said. “I don’t know what the plans are from the administration.”

Villegas also said he isn’t entirely sure when the shelter could open, but that it could happen as soon as next week.

“We’re having a meeting on Thursday, and I’ve heard potentially the following week, is when they’re looking at it. There’s already a letter of intent from the leasing agent to the owner of the property,” he said.

A spokesperson for the city’s Office of Emergency Management and Communications did not respond Friday to questions about the shelter.

A man and children watch videos on their smart phone while taking shelter outside of the Near West 12th police precinct in Chicago, Illinois, U.S., August 29, 2023. Credit: Jim Vondruska for Block Club Chicago

Villegas said Thursday’s meeting will be focused on public safety, as well as establishing what the “plan” is to offer wraparound services like job assistance and school enrollment for the new arrivals who may soon move to the area.

“It’s about public safety, making sure that we’re providing a plan to deal with whatever comes out of the folks that are going to be housed at this location, making sure again that upfront, there’s a plan,” he said. “My job is to figure out how to hold the administration accountable when putting forward a plan, once these folks are located in the ward.”

Almost 2,900 migrants were being housed at police districts across the city as of Monday morning, according to a city spokesperson.

In an effort to get people out of police station lobbies, Johnson’s administration recently signed a $29 million contract with Virginia-based GardaWorld Federal Services and its subsidiary Aegis Defense Services for the firm to “provide temporary housing, on an as-needed basis” for asylum seekers, records show.

That includes “base camp” tent shelters to house migrants, although no specific locations have been announced.

Johnson on Wednesday defended that contract, which has been criticized by some City Council members and activists who have pointed out GardaWorld’s checkered history

“My administration, along with [alderpeople] will continue to monitor to make sure that this company, this entity, is not violating the trust of the people of Chicago,” he said.

Johnson said during a press conference on Friday that the city’s plans to house asylum seekers in tents are still moving forward.

“We’re doing … everything in my power to find more brick-and-mortar space. I’m asking our business leaders to do this, our philanthropic leaders to find locations, our philanthropic community to lean in and support the mutual aid workers and support the work that’s being done on the frontlines,” he said. “And, you know, we’re still moving forward with the base camps. We still are.”

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