Community Leaders Call for Answers on Plans to Turn Old South Shore High School Into Shelter for Migrants

Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s office announced plans to use the old South Shore High School on the South Side to house asylum seekers and migrants from Texas.

Similar action was taken in the nearby Woodlawn community, where the shuttered Wadsworth Elementary School was turned into a migrant shelter.

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City officials are calling this a humanitarian crisis, with stretched resources and few housing options, now that more than 8,000 migrants have arrived.

LaShawn Brown, housing advocate with South Shore Works and founder of the Village Network, a housing education nonprofit, said this was “news” for her.

“The first concern is that there’s no transparency,” Brown said. “It’s extremely important that conversations happen with the community. … To receive this news about a facility that has been promised to the community, now more than 10 years after its closing, we are extremely shocked and not appreciating the fact that we don’t have a say. We don’t understand why our community has been chosen in light of the issues around the culture. We don’t have a Spanish-speaking community and are lacking the social services to match the needs we know they need. We know there’s a lot of trauma in the community.”

The city scheduled a community meeting for Thursday for residents to voice their thoughts and questions. The same was done in Woodlawn when moving migrants into the Wadsworth campus.

But for Benji Hart, a member of Southside Together Organizing for Power, known as STOP, and a resident of Woodlawn, those meetings weren’t effective.

“The meetings (in Woodlawn) were really just ways for the city to give people an outlet to let off steam and frustration without actually listening to the needs and concerns of residents while still going ahead with the very undemocratic plans to convert these schools into shelters,” Hart said. “For us, as a predominantly Black Woodlawn-based organization, our issue is these meetings really just became a way for locals to voice xenophobia and racism rather than actually being structured in a meaningful way to bring communities together and to communicate for the things we all need — long-term residents, as well as recent arrivals.”

WTTW News invited Lightfoot’s office to send a representative to “Chicago Tonight.” The office did not respond to that request.

Ald. Michelle Harris (8th Ward), who represents South Shore, told WTTW News in a statement: “I cannot support housing migrants at the old South Shore High School building. Like many, I have questions and concerns about the safety, humanity and funding of more migrant housing throughout our city. … Housing sites are operating in every part of the city, and this site is one of the last facilities available to house migrant families. I will continue to push for answers and alternative solutions to ensure our community’s safety.”

Meanwhile, some migrant families have had to stay in police stations for weeks amid a shortage in housing. The Little Village Community Council has been on the ground helping some of these families.

“They brought them here to the council, and we said we can’t house them because this facility can’t house people,” said Baltazar Enriquez, the council’s president. “They said to drop them off at the police station. You have families since two months ago from Colombia, Venezuela, even some Romanian families. There’s three families, total of 12, four children, and one is pregnant and she’s laying on the floor.”

To register for Thursday’s community meeting, click here.

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