City officials were met with anger and frustration at Tuesday night’s 29th Ward community meeting amid a plan to convert the Amundsen Park field house into a migrant shelter.
West Side residents expressed concerns for their current youth and senior programming at the field house and the short notice given by Mayor Brandon Johnson’s administration.
It marked the latest in a series of contentious community meetings across the city as officials work to find housing for the influx of thousands of migrants being sent from the southern border.
Ald. Chris Taliaferro of the 29th Ward, which includes parts of Austin, Montclare and Belmont Cragin, said he’s joining the community in its fight to keep the field house accessible to nearby residents.
“I immediately informed the deputy chief of staff that this could not happen, and I strongly objected to it,” Taliaferro said. “There was no process whatsoever for me to engage or the mayor’s office to engage with the residents of the Austin community and particularly in that area.”
Zerlina Smith-Members, president of the Quincy Strong Block Club and an Austin resident, said the community has poured its own time and resources into making the Amundsen Park field house what it is today.
“It means so much … and also to the South Side because it has so many programs for not just our youth, but our mothers, our parents, our seniors,” Smith-Members said. “That community is predominantly home ownership. People have been there for years. They’ve invested their own money and time into that park — buying air conditioners, providing uniforms for the kids’ programs and after-school programs. That park is a hub to the Black Austin community.”
Other communities like Woodlawn and Edgewater have seen similar community reactions and strong opposition to shelters in their neighborhoods. But defying objection, both Johnson’s administration and former mayor Lori Lightfoot’s team continued with their plans.
“When there’s a lack of communication, there’s dictatorship, and I feel like that’s what’s happening right now,” said Linda Johnson, a West Side resident. “It makes us look like we don’t care for people, and we do. But when you work all your life in this city and you retire, then you have an outing, which is your park district. Then you wanna take that? We should not have to suffer. We are paying our tax money for parks and everything else.”
Chicagoans are calling on a different approach to finding shelter for the city’s newest wave of migrants amid exacerbated tensions within Black and Latino communities.
“There was a lot of concern because community members had been asking for the (former) Wadsworth school to be turned into a community center,” said Cheryl Miller of Southside Together Organizing for Power, known as STOP. “I think with this setup, people do end up being pitted against each other around the issues of resources.”