Edgewater Residents Call for Answers as City Eyes Broadway Armory as Possible Migrant Center

“Chicago Tonight” is hitting the streets to speak with your neighbors, local businesses, agencies and leaders.

The city is eyeing Broadway Armory Park, one of Chicago Park District’s largest indoor and active recreational facilities, as a possible shelter or respite center for migrants.

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This comes amid Chicago’s ongoing struggle to find housing and resources for thousands of new arrivals sent from Texas.

Residents are worried this would mean youth and senior programs getting canceled or postponed and would be a loss for the neighborhood ahead of summer.

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“We couldn’t believe it,” said Linda White, an Edgewater resident. “There’s so many wonderful programs here — dance, fitness and wellness for all the kids and the seniors. They said this will all be shut down and it will become a shelter.”

White said in May a group of city officials looked at the property along with Ald. Leni Manaa-Hoppenworth (48th Ward). It’s a move that makes White believe the plan to convert this facility into housing for migrants is highly possible.

“We would like a definitive answer on what she is doing, if she is going to be a spokesperson on behalf of Broadway Armory when this meeting occurs, that’s supposedly coming up,” White said.

As of now, Manaa-Hoppenworth said all options are on the table.

“The Parks has assured us that there are no changes in plans and all summer programming is moving forward,” Manaa-Hoppenworth said. “We as a society need to step up and do our part. … The 48th Ward has a history of being very engaged.”

After multiple calls and emails from constituents, Manaa-Hoppenworth also sent a statement to residents in a newsletter, saying in part: “Please know that no decisions have been made about the Broadway Armory and no decisions will be made without a process of community engagement.”

During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Broadway Armory Park was used as an emergency homeless shelter.

Resident Cile Buckley said the center is ideal for housing hundreds of people temporarily.

The building has multiple rooms, five gymnasiums, showers, several bathrooms and a kitchen.

“I don’t think I would feel that put out by it, compared with the needs of the migrants,” Buckley said. “It’s a good space and it should be used and hopefully move them on to better housing.”

In a statement, the city of Chicago told WTTW News: “The Broadway Armory is being considered along with other locations, but we don’t have any details to share at this point. … As we collaborate with our partners to identify long-term solutions, we will continue to engage in planning and communication efforts with residents to ensure the continuity of services and limited disruption of programming at public facilities.”

In nearby Rogers Park, Luisette Kraal has been leading efforts on the North Side, providing clothes and food to hundreds of asylum-seekers arriving from the Texas border. What started as a clothing pop-up shop has turned into a 24/7 operation.

“We have over 100 American volunteers and we started a group that’s like a ‘pay it forward,’” Kraal said. “People who come here every week or come to church, they become the pay-it-forward group. We invite them to the store, and they teach others how to help.”

The program helps people like Juan Carlos Vanegas, who started his new life in the U.S. in Chicago. He arrived with his partner from Nicaragua and is currently living in a hotel downtown.

“We just got on a bus and kept going from country to country through small villages,” Carlos Vanegas said. “We just had the essentials to eat, sleep and try to survive.”

As Carlos Vanegas waits to get his work permit, he volunteers with Kraal at Park Community Church helping other asylum-seekers. 

“God willing, I get my work permit to be able to work legally here and be able to help my family that’s in Nicaragua,” Carlos Vanegas said.

Kraal is working to aid migrants who are currently sleeping at police stations and a closed YMCA nearby.

Now with the $51 million approved by the City Council, she hopes the city can help grassroots organizations on the front lines.

“I would be happy to receive any gift from the city so that we can do the little things like dropping off someone at the airport, dropping someone at a hospital, giving them a hamburger for them to get through the day,” Kraal said. “It adds up. I don’t have one volunteer in my group who hasn’t spent at least 2,000 of their own dollars.”

The field house at Leone Beach Park in Rogers Park is also being used as a respite center as asylum-seekers wait to be moved to a shelter.

White said she welcomes migrants into the diverse neighborhood but hopes the community won’t have to lose programming.

“It’s affecting so many people,” White said. “It’s not like it’s an empty school or an empty sight. It’s people who are using it on a daily basis. It’s a very vibrant community center.”

Residents who spoke to WTTW News said they’re expecting a date for a community meeting to be announced by the end of this week.

Community Reporting Series

“Chicago Tonight” is expanding its community reporting. We’re hitting the streets to speak with your neighbors, local businesses, agencies and leaders about COVID-19, the economy, racial justice, education and more. See where we’ve been and what we’ve learned by using the map below. Or select a community using the drop-down menu. Points in red represent our series COVID-19 Across Chicago; blue marks our series “Chicago Tonight” in Your Neighborhood.

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