Video: The WTTW News Spotlight Politics team on the latest political news. (Produced by Alexandra Silets)
Nearly 950 men, women and children are still being forced to sleep on the floors of police stations across the city and at O’Hare and Midway airports, despite efforts to move them into shelters as quickly as possible, city officials told a City Council panel Wednesday.
That is essentially unchanged since July 17, when Mayor Brandon Johnson again vowed to move the migrants, who are all in the country legally after requesting asylum, out of the police stations as quickly as possible.
Deputy Mayor Beatriz Ponce de León, who oversees immigrant, migrant and refugee rights for Johnson, said he remains committed to finding more permanent housing for the migrants, who are among nearly 12,000 people, most of them from Central and South America, who have arrived in Chicago in the past 11 months.
The migrants are waiting for beds to open up in one of 14 city shelters, which are now housing more than 5,445 people, said Ponce de León, who has been in office less than a month.
Moving the migrants out of the police stations remains Johnson’s highest priority, and all options are being explored, Ponce de León said.
City officials have considered opening shelters outside of the city, touring locations in Aurora and Berwyn, said Matt Doughtie of the Office of Emergency Management and Communications. That proposal is still in the early stages of development.
As city officials scramble to feed, clothe and care for the migrants — while working to find them permanent homes — two of the largest shelters will have to close in the coming weeks as the City Colleges of Chicago prepare to welcome students back for the fall term, which starts Aug. 24.
The nearly 800 families living at Daley City College on the Southwest Side and at Wright City College in Dunning on the Northwest Side will move to the American Islamic College in Lakeview, officials said.
Ald. Leni Manaa-Hoppenworth (48th Ward) told Ponce de León and other officials she was distressed that they had decided to open a shelter at the Broadway Armory before resolving concerns from Edgewater residents about displaced Chicago Park District programs for children and older Chciagoans.
That shelter is scheduled to open Tuesday. Fighting back tears, Manaa-Hoppenworth said she was committed to helping the migrants but said the process in deciding to open the shelter had been deeply flawed.
However, much of Wednesday’s four-hour session of the City Council’s Immigrant and Refugee Rights Committee focused on problems at the newly opened shelters, which several alderpeople said had become magnets for drugs and crime.
Several alderpeople echoed the call by Ald. Jeanette Taylor (20th Ward) for a special City Council meeting to craft a comprehensive solution to the humanitarian crisis posed by the hundreds of immigrants arriving in Chicago every week, only to find the city’s shelters full and its social safety net strained well beyond the breaking point.
“I’m rightfully pissed,” Taylor said. “It ain’t all hands on deck. It is not.”
Taylor said it was time for Johnson to stop blaming former Mayor Lori Lightfoot for failing to act before she left office to craft a solution to the migrant crisis that surged in April after waning during the winter. Both Ponce de León and Department of Family and Support Services Commissioner Brande Knazze criticized the former administration in their remarks to the committee.
“It’s y’all time now,” Taylor said. “It is time to say what is the the real plan is to get people moving. I’m irritated and aggravated. What are we going to do different?”
Taylor warned that if the city does not address the crisis soon, the Democratic National Convention in August 2024 will be a target for protests.
“They’re going to shut it down, and rightfully so,” Taylor said, urging Illinois’ Congressional delegation to attend the special City Council meeting and provide more federal help to the city. “What are y’all doing? Because y’all are not helping us. This is not figured out.”