Asylum seekers living at the Ogden (10th) Police District, 3315 W. Ogden Ave, on Nov. 1, 2023. Migrants have been using nearly 40 tents for shelter as the temperatures drop. Credit: Alex V. Hernandez/Block Club Chicago

CHICAGO — The state will spend an additional $160 million to help house and expedite the resettlement of migrants in Chicago ahead of temperatures dropping this winter.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Thursday said the investment will fund the creation of a centralized intake center for migrants coming to Chicago as well as a winterized shelter that can house up to 2,000 people. Funds will also go toward ramping up “wraparound services” to expedite permanent resettlement for asylum seekers.

As of Wednesday morning, more than 12,000 migrants were living in the city’s 25 temporary shelters. About 1,800 people continue to be housed at police stations, with almost 600 at O’Hare Airport, according to city data.

The state of Illinois will spend $160 million to stand up an intake center, winterized shelter and additional services for migrants Credit: Provided

Asked by a reporter on Thursday why these funds were being allocated now, Pritzker said it was because the city of Chicago “hasn’t moved fast enough” to move asylum seekers into shelters ahead of the winter.

“We’re stepping in here to try to help and accelerate this process. It isn’t moving fast enough. That’s why you’re seeing people still on the street and we just can’t have people on the street,” Pritzker said. “This is a humanitarian endeavor. We cannot have people freezing on the streets of Chicago as we head into very cold weather.”

The state funding comes as Mayor Brandon Johnson announced Wednesday plans to institute a 60-day stay limit for migrants living at temporary city-run shelters. Johnson provided few details about the policy change, but he said additional information would be released on Friday.

The $160 million in state dollars is broken down into three categories:

  • $30 million will go toward creating a centralized intake center to coordinate where migrants will go after arriving in Chicago. The facility will prioritize “onward movement” to help new arrivals connect with family or sponsors outside the city, an effort the state says could lead to a 10 percent reduction in migrants seeking shelter.
  • $65 million is earmarked to launch a “winterized soft shelter site” in Chicago that will provide temporary housing for up to 2,000 people. That site would be prioritized for asylum seekers living outside or at police stations and O’Hare Airport. It will exist as part of Chicago’s existing shelter system, according to a news release.
  • Another $65 million will go toward case management, legal services and work permit processing, among other services.

All funds will be appropriated from the Illinois Department of Human Services and will be administered by the state, not the city of Chicago.

“With Congress likely unwilling to act, and with lives of innocent people at stake, the hurdles we face seem far beyond the scope of any one state and yet, everything we can
do, we must do,” Pritzker said during a news conference Thursday. “Today I am laying out a comprehensive data-driven plan to improve the response to this humanitarian crisis.”

The state is also partnering with New Life Centers of Chicagoland to deploy a team to the Chicago bus landing zone “to ensure every new arrival is supported in a choice to seek alternative arrangements outside the city shelter system,” Pritzker said.

Buses bringing migrants to Chicago in recent months have arrived throughout the night and without prior notice, leaving city officials scrambling to accommodate asylum seekers.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

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