The city is running against the clock to house thousands of migrants arriving from the Texas border.
Ald. Nicholas Sposato (38th Ward) hosted a community meeting Tuesday night to discuss the city’s plan to use parts of Wright College on the Northwest Side as a respite center — a temporary location where 400 asylum seekers will have a place to rest, take a shower and receive a hot meal as the city works to find shelter for them.
Sposato said he found out 12 days ago via an anonymous caller that the city planned to use parts of Wright College in the Dunning community. Sposato said he wants to know more about the city’s plans before asylum seekers are moved into the school. That’s a message many community leaders across Chicago have echoed as the city struggles to find permanent solutions for the influx of migrants.
“I started making some phone calls,” Sposato said. “I called OEMC. The mayor’s office was in transition at that time. I found out on Tuesday, that they were doing it. They wanted to do it, which means they are going to do it. I said we aren’t going to do it unless we have a community meeting.”
As of Tuesday morning, there were 784 asylum seekers sleeping on the floors of police stations across the city.
WTTW News visited the 16th District police station, where more than 30 adults and children are staying.
Jonathan Monasterio, 28, arrived in Chicago a week ago from Venezuela, where he said he worked as a police officer. Now he’s hoping to get the opportunity to work to be able to provide for his wife and child back in his home country.
“The long trip is finally over,” Monasterio said. “This is the final destination, and here I can make a life for the next five to 10 years. I don’t want to be taken care of. I appreciate the help, but the goal is not to stay in a shelter for six to eight months. Give me two months to work and earn some money and I’ll move on.”
The city plans to use Wright College from June through August as an alternative center for migrants to stay instead of police stations.
For months, city officials have been turning buildings, parks and hotels into temporary shelters — decisions that many communities have had mixed feelings about.
Near Wright College, Dunning resident Nathan Madden said, “As humans, we should help everyone in need. We need to build that sense of community. We need to allow ourselves to help others. That’s the best thing for us as a species to move forward.”
“I would say that’s not the way they should come in in the first place, but they’re here,” nearby resident Jane Cahill said. “So, I think you do the best you can. The restaurants don’t have enough waitresses. … Let them cook, let them go to work.”
It’s a long legal process before migrants are able to receive a work permit — time Sposato said the city doesn’t have.
“If you’re letting them in, why aren’t you allowing them to work?” Sposato said. “These are not criminals; these are people who want to work and make a better life for themselves and their families.”
Students and staff are set to return to Wright College in August.