Chicago Closes 4 Shelters as Number of Migrants in City Facilities Drops 17% Since Mid-December

Chicago officials in the past two weeks closed four shelters used to house migrants sent to Chicago from the southern border, as the number of men, women and children living in city-run facilities has dropped 17% since mid-December, the most recent peak of the humanitarian crisis facing Chicago.

At the beginning of January, nearly 400 people were living at the Harold Washington Library Center in the Loop, Casa Esperanza in North Lawndale, New Life Community Church in Lakeview, and North Park Village on the North Side near North Park University, according to city data.

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Mayor Brandon Johnson told reporters after Wednesday’s City Council meeting the now-shuttered facilities were the “most expensive shelters to run.”

“We have to right-size this mission around the budget we have,” said Johnson, who told members of the City Council in late January that his administration would stop opening new shelters to house migrants amid a budget crunch.

That announcement brought a sharp rebuke from Gov. J.B. Pritzker, who said he was “deeply concerned” that the city would not have enough shelter space to take care of the migrants already in Chicago — as well as those expected to make their way to Chicago once the weather warms up and in the months before the Democratic National Convention in August.

The city is now caring for 12,438 migrants in 24 shelters across Chicago, according to city data released Thursday morning. On Dec. 15, there were 15,028 people in city shelters, according to city data.

Approximately two weeks ago, the last migrants moved out of encampments established at O’Hare International Airport in June, as the number of migrants making their way to Chicago surged after the election of Johnson in May.

But unlike when Johnson’s administration announced in December that all of the migrants had been moved out of the city’s police stations, officials have not had to scramble to avoid returning migrants to the airport or had to force hundreds of people to sleep on buses at the designated drop-off location at Polk and Desplaines streets in the West Loop.

The number of migrants living at police stations peaked at 3,890 on Oct. 16, before the number of buses began to slow with the onset of cold, wet weather. But that respite was brief, with the number of buses increasing again in early December.

Chicago officials credited the decline in the city’s shelter population in the first months of 2024 to a drop in the number of people crossing the border and requesting asylum before being allowed to enter the country legally while their cases are resolved, as well as stepped up efforts to get migrants into more permanent homes and apartments.

Closing the four shelters will allow the city to avoid paying $19 million to lease the facilities, staff them and provide food and laundry services, officials said.

Since August 2022, 802 buses have arrived in Chicago, carrying nearly 31,300 people, with another 4,600 people arriving on planes, nearly all of them fleeing economic collapse and political turmoil in Central and South America. More than 86% of people have arrived after Johnson took office in May, according to city data.

As many as 5,700 migrants who were living in city shelters in January face a March 16 deadline to leave city facilities, under limits on shelter stays announced by Johnson in November but delayed three times amid an outcry.

State, city and county officials pegged the current cost of caring for the migrants already in Chicago at an additional $321 million through the end of 2024.

Pritzker asked the General Assembly Wednesday to earmark $182 million for the migrants, and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle pledged another $70 million to fill the gap.

However, Johnson has so far declined to commit to ask the City Council to spend more money to care for the migrants, which would no doubt trigger a massive political fight.

In all, Chicago’s 2024 budget includes $150 million to care for the migrants, which the mayor has acknowledged will not be sufficient.

When pressed, Johnson has reminded reporters that Pritzker pledged to use $65 million to open a 200-bed shelter in a vacant CVS drugstore in Little Village and to house another 2,000 migrants in a massive, winterized base camp. Plans to build that structure in Brighton Park were scuttled by state officials, citing environmental concerns.

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

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