With ‘Base Camps’ Weeks Away from Opening, Officials Scramble for Temporary Plan for Migrants

A vacant lot at 38th Street and California Avenue in the Brighton Park neighborhood is the proposed site of a winterized base camp for migrants. (WTTW News)A vacant lot at 38th Street and California Avenue in the Brighton Park neighborhood is the proposed site of a winterized base camp for migrants. (WTTW News)

It will be weeks before Chicago officials will be ready to open “winterized base camps” to house some of the 3,000 migrants living at police stations across the city and at O’Hare International Airport, city officials said Thursday.

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Approximately 1,500 men, women and children are sleeping in thin tents outside police stations across the city, protected from the cold, wet concrete by only tarps or cardboard, according to data provided by Deputy Mayor for Immigrant, Migrant and Refugee Rights Beatriz Ponce de León.

Officials are “a couple of weeks away ... if not a little bit longer” from opening the first base camp, Ponce de León said.

City officials have sent warming buses to 16 of the 22 police stations, but many migrants are struggling with the cold and wet temperatures, according to volunteers helping to care for the migrants, who are all in the country legally after requesting asylum.

Officials are working to add beds to existing shelters and are working with the Archdiocese of Chicago and other religious organizations to serve as emergency shelters if the mercury drops below freezing again, Ponce de León said.

Friday night is expected to be the coldest night of the week, with the overnight low expected to hit 33 degrees, just above freezing. It is not expected to rain for the next 10 days, with overnight lows hovering around 40 degrees for much of the week, according to the National Weather Service.

Although the Chicago City Council on Tuesday approved a plan to purchase the now-vacant Jewel-Osco and surrounding parking lot near 115th and Halsted streets for $1 and transform it into a migrant shelter, city workers must now prepare the 6.5-acre site by removing debris, eliminating rodents and confirming that the city can provide electricity and water to the site, said Cristina Pacione Zayas, Mayor Brandon Johnson’s first deputy chief of staff.

That work will likely take weeks. Johnson first announced plans to move the migrants being forced to sleep on the floor of police stations and at the city’s airports into large tents at the beginning of September. Last week, Johnson said his goal was to get the base camps open before winter begins.

If it moves forward as expected, the base camp at 115th and Halsted could house as many as 1,500 people in as many as four tents protected from the cold and damp with separate tents for case management services, dining, showers and bathroom facilities, Pacione Zayas told reporters during a virtual briefing Thursday.

Pacione Zayas said Chicago’s base camps would be similar to those erected in New York City, which she toured earlier this week.

Officials are also still waiting for the results of environmental tests before deciding whether to move forward with plans to open a base camp on a vacant lot near 38th Street and California Avenue in Brighton Park.

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

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