Chicago’s temperatures are dropping.
This brings a new set of challenges for the more than 2,800 migrants living at police stations — most of whom have never experienced a Chicago winter.
Medical professionals and local volunteers are working directly with migrants to help them prepare for the upcoming months.
Sara Izquierdo, a medical student at the University of Illinois Chicago, is one of the people on the ground with the Mobile Migrant Health Team. She said some of the migrants aren’t aware the weather could reach these low temperatures, and most are not prepared.
“What we’re seeing is not only the shock upon arriving to Chicago, but also a lot of people are here with only what they were able to make the migration with,” Izquierdo said. “And a lot of times this is maybe a T-shirt, maybe a sweater, even shorts and sneakers that have seen much better days.”
Many of the migrants are already experiencing some of the health concerns that come with living in a congested setting, such as the flu or a cold, according to Dr. Evelyn Figueroa, a professor of clinical, family and community medicine at the University of Illinois Chicago and the director of the Pilsen Food Pantry.
This plays a factor when temperatures drop and the risk of hypothermia is added to the equation.
“So besides the shock of getting here, and now having to grapple with hypothermia, they also have come very weak, malnourished,” Figueroa said.
She added that children are at a higher risk for becoming hypothermic if they are out in the cold.
To try to prevent this, local organizations like Lake View Lutheran Church are gathering coats, hats and other winter weather gear to help prepare the migrants. Pastor Liala Beukema said that in addition to this, calls for better assistance are also needed.
“I think there’s just been a lot of advocacy to try to ensure that there are warming buses that are there not just at the coldest part of night, but perhaps, setting a standard for when the temperatures get to a certain level so that those buses are there,” Beukema said.
Lake View Lutheran is located across the street from the 19th District police station, creating a direct pipeline to the migrants living at that station.
“We are fortunate in that regard, so that we can get those supplies to people relatively quickly on their arrival to the police station,” Beukema said. “But we know that that’s not necessarily the case for a lot of places where proximity is a challenge.”
For Chicagoans who want to donate to local organizations who are supporting migrants, contacting the organizations to find out what is needed is most important, Figueroa said.
“With that in mind, it’s important if you want to donate, to remember that cash is king,” Figueroa said. “Most of us are tax exempt, so we can stretch your dollars more and buy in bulk. We … can also allocate appropriately.”