Mayor Brandon Johnson suspended the 60-day shelter limit for migrants for the third time since November this week, saying in a news conference that the city’s plan for temporary emergency shelter “was never meant as a long-term housing solution.”
This means the more than 14,000 men, women and children in city shelters now have until mid-March to find more permanent housing.
“When we first launched this policy, we knew that we would want to make exceptions and we built in the possibility of extending the 60-day policy for individuals based on weather, personal medical reasons or other extenuating circumstances,” said Beatriz Ponce de León, Chicago’s deputy mayor for immigrant, migrant and refugee rights. “Nobody wants to live in congregate shelters, with big open spaces for a long period of time.”
Ald. Andre Vasquez (40th Ward), who chairs the City Council’s Immigrant and Refugee Rights Committee, was among a group of progressive alderpeople asking Johnson to terminate this policy altogether.
“We were talking about 1,900 people who depending on their situation may not have had a place to go, and the way the system was communicated was they’d end up at a landing zone,” Vasquez said. “If that landing zone would have been full with people because we keep getting the buses, it would create different bottlenecks … folks on the street homeless, people shoplifting more because they’re trying to survive, young males being brought into gangs’ territory to find community, and so understanding it leads to larger problems.”
Meanwhile, Annie Gomberg, a lead organizer with the Police Station Response Team who has been on the ground aiding migrants, said there’s a lot of confusion about the policy and the process of what happens next.
“Not everybody is going to be able to access state vouchers for housing,” Gomberg said, “and when you do not have the capacity to work and you don’t have resources to put yourself into your own apartment, when you have children that are in school, and all of the illness and injury and other things as well as the trauma of this journey, that’s a lot for people to have to unpack.”
Jessica Darrow, a professor at the University of Chicago’s Crown Family School of Social Work, Policy, and Practice, has been studying refugee resettlement for years and said this current humanitarian crisis stems from decades of disinvestment in low-income housing.
“Accessing housing is a lot more complicated than a policy that ideally gives people rental assistance, or even saying that landlords can’t discriminate based on a national immigration status,” Darrow said. “The fact is, we do have a city that does not have nearly enough low-income housing and people will not be able to find apartments unless they can also find work, which means they have to have work authorization. There’s so many steps that are really out of the control of this city’s administration and really out of control of volunteers. We’ve got people working so hard to plug holes that are then constantly flooding again.”
According to Ponce de León, the city of Chicago, in partnership with the state, has helped 15,000 people move through the shelter system and resettle in the Chicago area or reunite with friends and family somewhere else.