Chicago Park District Facilities Will No Longer Be Used as Migrant Shelters, Johnson Announces

City officials will begin moving 791 migrants out of five Chicago Park District facilities being used as shelters as soon as Saturday in order to allow summer programs to take place as scheduled, Mayor Brandon Johnson announced Monday.

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City officials were under significant pressure from nearby residents to return the five fieldhouses at Brands Park, Gage Park, Piotrowski Park, Broadway Armory Park and Leone Park to park district use before summer programs, including day camps, were set to begin.

The five shelters – two on the Southwest Side, one on the Northwest Side and two on the Far North Side – were transformed into emergency shelters in May as the Johnson administration struggled to find shelter space for thousands of migrants forced to sleep at police stations across the city.

“I am proud of the efforts of my administration, our partners, and the many Chicagoans who stepped up to welcome new arrivals by providing shelter in our Park District field houses at a time when this was clearly needed,” Johnson said in a statement. “We are grateful to the alderpersons and communities who have embraced new neighbors with open arms, and we are pleased that these park facilities will be transitioned back to their intended purpose in time for summer programming.”

At the beginning of January, the five shelters set to be closed housed 1,181 people, city records show. That means the shelters have seen their populations drop by approximately 50% during the past three months.

City officials will attempt to move the migrants to the nearest shelters, and “children are expected to remain in the same school during and after the transition,” according to a statement from the mayor’s office.

Officials announced March 15 that families with school-age children will be allowed to remain in city shelters until after the academic year ends in June, giving them a reprieve from the city’s 60-limit on shelter stays by migrants.

Nearly 37,900 migrants, all of whom are in the country legally after requesting asylum, have made their way to Chicago as part of an effort by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, to damage President Joe Biden’s chances for reelection and divide Democratic voters.

Fewer than 10,600 people were living in 23 city facilities as of Monday, a drop of more than 10% since March 1, according to city data.

Once the migrant shelters at the five park district locations are closed, it will double the number of shelters closed by the Johnson administration since the beginning of February. City officials have not opened a new shelter since December, announcing that efforts to “right-size” the administration’s response to the crisis.

The pace of arrivals by migrants began to increase significantly in mid-April of 2023, forcing Johnson to confront a spiraling humanitarian crisis just as he took office that strained the city’s social safety net, pinched the city’s finances and exacerbated tension between Chicago’s Black and Latino communities.

Johnson thanked four of the five alderpeople whose wards included the park district fieldhouses transformed into shelters in a statement for stepping up during a time of crisis.

For months, city officials have been predicting a renewed increase in the number of migrants sent to Chicago as the weather warms and Texas officials step up efforts to speed the flow to Chicago in time for the Democratic National Convention in late August.

Johnson has repeatedly called for additional substantial help from federal officials, and resisted calls to suspend evictions from the city’s shelters.

“The reality is that we have restraints,” Johnson said. “I’ve said from the very beginning that this mission is unsustainable. Local municipalities are not designed to deal with an international global crisis, particularly as it relates to migrants and asylum seekers.”

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

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