Key Panel Advances Plan to Transform Former Chicago Marine Corps Facility into Migrant Shelter

A former U.S. Marine Corps facility in the North Park neighborhood of Chicago is pictured on Aug. 28, 2023. (WTTW News)A former U.S. Marine Corps facility in the North Park neighborhood of Chicago is pictured on Aug. 28, 2023. (WTTW News)

A key city panel endorsed a plan on Monday to transform a North Park building complex once used by the U.S. Marine Corps for training into a shelter for some of the more than 1,600 men, women and children being forced to sleep on the floors of police stations across the city and at O’Hare Airport.

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The Chicago City Council is set to consider the proposal to purchase the now-vacant 10.7-acre property at 3034 W. Foster Ave. for $1.5 million from the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District at its meeting on Sept. 13. Ald. David Moore (17th Ward) was the only member of the Housing and Real Estate Committee to reject the plan after he unsuccessfully tried to prevent a vote.

“I have not heard or seen a clear strategy” for moving the migrants out of the airport and police shelters, Moore said. “Where is the larger strategy?”

Ald. Samantha Nugent (39th Ward) said she supported the proposal to use the former Marine facility to house as many as 550 migrants, who are all in the country legally after requesting asylum. City officials plan use funds from the area’s Tax Increment Financing District to cover the purchase price.

If the purchase is approved, the first migrants could move in within a month, after repairs are made to the building’s heating, air conditioning and ventilation systems, said Lori Ann Lypson, the deputy mayor for infrastructure. The property, adjacent to a CTA bus yard, has been vacant for at least the last eight months, when the Marines broke their decades-long lease with the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District, she said.

Eventually, Nugent said the land, along the North Branch of the Chicago River and across from River Park, should be used for early childhood programs and by the Chicago Park District for recreation.

The number of migrants living at police stations and O’Hare rose 28% between Aug. 18 and Friday, according to data provided by Ald. Andre Vasquez (40th Ward), the chair of the City Council’s Immigrant and Refugee Rights Committee.

All are waiting for space to open up in one of 15 city shelters, which housed more than 6,500 migrants as of Friday, according to city data.

More than a month ago, Johnson vowed to move those living at police stations into permanent shelters as quickly as possible. Although Johnson’s administration has opened 10 new shelters since the new mayor took office in mid-May, the number of migrants arriving in Chicago from the southern border on buses paid for by Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott continued to outstrip the city’s ability to house them.

In all, more than 13,000 migrants have arrived in Chicago during the past year, straining the city’s social safety net and at times exacerbating tension between Chicago’s Black and Latino communities.

Ald. Jeanette Taylor (20th Ward) urged members of Johnson’s leadership team to learn from the process of opening shelters across the city for the migrants.

“I want us to learn from our mistakes,” said Taylor, who has blasted the shelter in her ward at a former school as a magnet for trouble, including sex trafficking. “What are we going to do differently?”

Cristina Pacione-Zayas, the mayor’s first deputy chief of staff, said city officials were pushing federal officials to permit the migrants to work while they await a decision on whether they are eligible for asylum.

In addition, Chicago officials are working with leaders of surrounding suburbs to request funding from the state earmarked to care for the migrants, and plan to review proposals from Chicago nonprofits to manage the shelters sure this week, Pacione-Zayas said.

Note: This article was updated to correct the address of the building. 

Contact Heather Cherone: @HeatherCherone | (773) 569-1863 | [email protected]

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