The Illinois Department of Human Services is preparing to move 658 recent migrant arrivals into a former Kmart in Chicago for temporary shelter, WTTW News has learned.
The 100,000-square-foot store has sat vacant at the corner of 71st Street and Pulaski Road on the city’s Southwest Side since 2016.
Sources said the migrants — mostly asylum seekers — will be relocated from the suburbs, where they are currently staying at hotels.
According to documents WTTW News obtained, the site was selected because of its nearby resources and because it is in a welcoming neighborhood.
But some local officials are not yet ready to roll out the welcome mat.
In a letter to IDHS Secretary Grace Hou, local state Rep. Angelica Guerrero-Cuellar said she has serious concerns about the plan.
"Unfortunately, I do not believe the proposed migrant shelter location at 71st Street and Pulaski Road is ready to safely house 658 migrants,” the letter said. “Many questions remain about whether the facility is prepared to serve as safe housing for this many people. I believe it is important that we pause the opening of the proposed site as we work to resolve these issues.”
Ald. Silvana Tabares (23rd Ward) echoes similar reservations:
“After being briefed about the state’s pending plans to house migrants at the location at 71st and Pulaski, I have major concerns for the safety of the local community and the people who will be housed at this location,” Tabares said.
Chief among those concerns: Is there enough public safety around the area? And will the migrants be housed inhumanely in tents after sleeping in hotel beds?
Johannes Favi is deputy director of the Interfaith Community for Detained Immigrants. He said he’d rather see families take the migrants into their homes.
“It’s heartbreaking to see that we have buildings empty around the city that are unused,” Favi said. “We have great community response, and we’re not tapping into the resource we have, and we’re just repeating the same mistake over and over again.”
This dispute comes on the heels of unease in the Woodlawn neighborhood, where some local residents tried to block the temporary sheltering of migrants at the shuttered Wadsworth School. Mayor Lori Lightfoot has said the city is already at its capacity to house migrants.
IDHS originally planned to move the migrants to the facility Friday but delayed the timeline to respond to the concerns of local officials.
It’s unclear when the move-in date will happen now, if it happens at all. Favi said the migrants have undergone harrowing journeys and are still struggling with the uncertainty of their current situation.
“You will find people who are grateful for having somewhere to stay,” Favi said. “You will also find people that are completely depressed and on the brink of giving up.”
Read Rep. Guerrero-Cuellar’s full letter to IDHS Secretary Hou in the below PDF: