In the midst of Chicago’s ongoing migrant crisis, in which many have ended up on the police station floor and some residents have refused to make beds available for them, a group of City Council members on Wednesday proposed what they said were solutions.
The group consisting of several Latino council members proposed a neighborhood search for disused buildings which, pending community approval, could be converted into temporary shelters where social workers could connect asylum seekers and other uninhabited persons to transitional living situations and, finally, placing them in affordable permanent housing.
“We are working in every corner of the city to address not only new arrivals but also existing problems that we have,” Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25) said at a news conference at City Hall on Wednesday.
The plan would be a strengthened version of the makeshift shelter Sigcho-Lopezhas set up in the Pilsen neighborhood and which he said was already an improvement over the “horrific situation” of asylum seekers and homeless people living in “inhumane conditions in the police district, at the airport, at the bridge.”
The plans, of course, still need funding and have yet to be introduced to the Council, but Lucia Calderon, Sigcho-Lopez’s chief of staff, says they have the backing of the Johnson administration – and already have several venues ready.
Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25) holds one of his triplets as he addresses reporters at a news conference at City Hall on Wednesday. Lower West Side councilors proposed a ward-by-ward search for temporary shelters that would be the starting point in the process of placing asylum seekers and homeless people in affordable permanent housing.
The proposed locations were: four unused buildings at Daley College on the West Lawn, where they said they could accommodate 400 people; an empty building on Archer and Kedzie streets in Brighton Park, where they say it seats 30 people; and, in the Little Village neighborhood, the former CVS shop and Institut Arturo Velasquez, a satellite campus of Daley College, where they say it seats 200 people.
Calderon said Johnson had toured the West Lawn and former CVS site. with a tour of the Velasquez location planned soon.
Ald. Julia Ramirez (12), whose neighborhood includes the Brighton Park location, was among those present to support the plan. Ald. Jessie Fuentes (26) and Ruth Cruz (30), who replaced Ariel Reboyas, former head of the Immigration and Refugee Rights Committee, also attended.
Based on the cost of running the Pilsen facility, a facility housing 200 to 250 people is estimated to cost around $875,000 per year. A residential location for 30 people will cost about $80,000 a year.
The plan will be the latest way to deal with Chicago’s migrant crisis that started after Texas Governor Greg Abbott began transporting migrants from the border to Chicago last August. Since then, around 10,000 migrants have arrived in the city, according to the city’s Office of Emergency Management.
Plans to host migrants this summer at Wilbur Write College in the Dunning neighborhood met with a mixed reception from residents Tuesday night at a public forum at the Northwest Side school. However, the plan has received more support than efforts in other parts of the city, where incoming migrants have faced a backlash. Lawsuits have been filed to stop migrants being placed at the vacant South Shore High School.
Some South Siders even crashed Wednesday’s City Hall press conference.
“Society says no,” said Val Free, founder of the Neighborhood Network Alliance, a group of South Shore block club organizations. “You presented this plan without our vote.”
Another member of Free’s group said the plan did not address “18,000 citizens returning from prison”.
“They have a place to live for us when we go to prison, but no place to live for us when we come back,” said Tyronne Muhammad, founder of Ex-Cons for Community and Social Change.
Sigcho-Lopez tries to convince the group that the plan involves them, but the group is not convinced. The two groups started talking to each other when the journalists tried to ask questions.
Tyronne Muhammad (center right), founder of Ex-Cons for Community and Social Change, interrupts a City Hall news conference to reject a long-term housing plan for migrants and the homeless, saying not enough is being done for the “18,000 residents returning from prison.”
“Let’s take CHA land and build affordable housing with it,” said Derric Price, founder of the African American Community Trust, as he picked up the microphone. “There are quite a few abandoned buildings in Chicago. Put it online.
George Roumbanis, an educator at Daley College and president of the City Colleges union, stood up to show his support for the plan. “We can house hundreds of people there where no community is impacted.”
Roumbanis, who immigrated from Greece in the 1980s, said it would be an improvement when he arrived; he ends up living in an empty building, where a local security guard tricks him into paying the rent. He took it as a bargain, though.
“Well, I didn’t know it was abandoned,” he said Wednesday. “But still, $75.”
Michael Loria is a staff reporter at the Chicago Sun-Times via Report for Americaa non-profit journalism program that aims to increase newspaper coverage of communities on the South Side and West Side.