State Officials to Use $65M to Build Brighton Park Base Camp, Transform Little Village CVS into Migrant Shelter

Protesters stand at the entrance of a Brighton Park lot that will eventually be used as a base camp for migrants arriving in Chicago on Nov. 27, 2023. (WTTW News) Protesters stand at the entrance of a Brighton Park lot that will eventually be used as a base camp for migrants arriving in Chicago on Nov. 27, 2023. (WTTW News)

State officials will spend $65 million to build a winterized base camp in Brighton Park and transform a vacant CVS drugstore in Little Village into a shelter in an effort to house the thousands of migrants who are at risk of dying on Chicago’s streets now that winter weather has settled over the city, Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s office announced Monday.

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In all, the shelters will be able to house as many as 2,200 migrants, officials said. Construction on both shelters is set to start this week, and the first people could move in as soon as next week, officials said.

For the first time in months, there are fewer than 1,200 migrants living at police stations across the city, with another 165 people living at O’Hare International Airport, according to city data through Monday morning. Beds at the new shelters will be prioritized for families and individuals with disabilities who are currently sleeping outdoors, at police stations and at O’Hare, state officials said.

While the shelters will be a part of the city’s shelter system, state funds will be used to build the facilities, operate the shelter and provide services, including conflict resolution. There are now nearly 12,800 migrants in city-run shelters, an all-time high.

“Asylum seekers have travelled thousands of miles and entered this country legally in search of a better life, and we cannot allow them to be met with sub-freezing temperatures and inadequate shelter,” Pritzker said.

Pritzker announced Nov. 16 that the state would spend an additional $160 million to care for the migrants, all of whom are in the country legally after requesting asylum. In all, more than 22,600 men, women and children have been sent to Chicago on buses paid for by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican determined to harm President Joe Biden’s reelection bid.

The “winterized base camp” in Brighton Park is set to open over the objections of Ald. Julia Ramirez (12th Ward), who said environmental pollution discovered on the site makes it unsafe for it to be used as a shelter for migrants.

Ronnie Reese, Johnson’s spokesperson, said city officials are “confident that the property will be suited for the purpose for which it will be used.”

Officials will release more information about the environmental assessment of the site in the coming days, Reese said. That analysis examined “historical site and governmental environmental databases using the American Society for Testing and Materials international practices,” Reese said.

The city is set to pay $29 million to GardaWorld Federal Services to erect the massive tents to house the migrants and care for them, under a contract that was originally inked by state officials. 

GardaWorld is scheduled to begin placing bases for structures on the site Tuesday, with the erection of the base camp starting as soon as Wednesday, Reese said.

State officials said migrants will not move into the Brighton Park base camp “until all environmental concerns have been addressed.”

The city will pay the owners of the lot at 38th Street and California Avenue $91,400 a month to lease the land, under the terms of an agreement reached in October.

The base camp, which will have separate tents for sleeping, case management services, dining, showers and bathroom facilities. The Brighton Park base camp will open to house 500 people and expand to as many as 2,000 people, officials said. A second base camp for migrants is expected to be built at 115th and Halsted streets, officials said.

Deputy Mayor for Immigrant, Migrant and Refugee Rights Beatriz Ponce de León has said the base camps are a last resort to care for the migrants.

Johnson has blamed the crisis facing Chicago on “right-wing extremists bent on sowing chaos and division in our city.”

Once the new shelters are up and running, most of those who move in will be allowed to stay for no more than 60 days, under new rules announced by Johnson. A state-funded program that offered migrants six months of rental assistance is no longer available, raising fears that the new limits on resources for the migrants will exacerbate Chicago’s homelessness problem, and expose vulnerable migrants to the elements and put them at risk of becoming a victim of crime or violence.

A proposal to use the vacant CVS drugstore at 26th Street and Pulaski Road has been a source of tension for months between state and city officials scrambling to care for the migrants, many of whom arrived with not much more than the clothes on their backs after fleeing economic collapse and political persecution in Venezuela.

State officials said city leaders had rejected their offer to open a shelter in the vacant drugstore not far from the center of Little Village, often viewed as the center of Latino culture in Chicago.

Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th Ward), the mayor’s former City Council floor leader, called that rejection a “bold-faced lie,” while Cristina Pacione-Zayas, Johnson’s first deputy chief of staff, said city officials eagerly accepted the state’s offer to open a shelter in that location, only to see it delayed by the transition from the Lightfoot administration to the Johnson administration and questions about the property’s ownership.

In addition to the $65 million the state will spend building and operating the two new shelters, state officials will spend an additional $65 million to help the migrants apply for work permits, get housing assistance and move into permanent homes, officials said.

The remaining $30 million will be used to create a state-run intake center to process the migrants as they arrive in Chicago, before being sent to a police station. That will enable officials to help those who do not want to stay in Chicago get to their final destination, while better tracking those who do want to stay in Chicago.

Between August 2022, when the first buses arrived from Texas, and Nov. 15, the state has spent $478 million to care for the migrants, state officials said.

The Chicago City Council spent $56 million of city funds to care for the migrants in 2023 and set aside an additional $150 million as part of the 2024 spending plan.

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

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