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The Rundown: A migrant boy’s death raises safety questions

Good afternoon. If you’re traveling this week, here’s a look at the weather in the Chicago area in the coming days. Here’s what else you need to know today.

1. A 5-year-old migrant boy died after becoming ill at a shelter with a history of complaints

Authorities are investigating the death of the boy, who was identified by authorities as Jean Carlos Martinez.

He became ill yesterday at an overcrowded shelter in Pilsen, my colleague Michael Loria reports. The boy was taken to Comer’s Children’s Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

Martinez was staying at a Pilsen shelter inside a converted warehouse that has become the most crowded shelter in the city, holding over 2,000 people.

It is run by Favorite Healthcare Staffing, a Kansas-based contractor the city has awarded tens of millions of dollars to run shelters since September 2022, shortly after the first buses carrying migrants began arriving.

Migrants at the shelter quickly began sharing complaints with reporters and advocates, alleging it was overcrowded with many people sick and staff indifferent to the conditions.

Videos from inside the shelter shared with a reporter showed water leaking through the ceiling onto cots where migrants sleep as well as children who were visibly sick. [Chicago Sun-Times]

2. No migrants were staying at Chicago police stations for the first time since the spring

For the first time in at least eight months, no asylum-seekers were being housed in Chicago police district buildings as of Saturday morning, my colleague Violet Miller reports.

“Nearly 190 new arrivals were still awaiting shelter placement at O’Hare Airport, but the clearing of CPD stations marks an ebb in a crisis that has exhausted city resources and highlighted racial tensions across Chicago,” Miller writes.

The situation was dramatically different just a few months ago. In mid-October, a peak of about 3,300 migrants were living inside or outside police stations.

Now, about 14,000 migrants are being housed at 27 city-run shelters.

City officials are currently negotiating with the Archdiocese of Chicago to set up temporary lease agreements at empty church and school buildings, the first of which is expected to open next month. [Chicago Sun-Times]

3. Jurors are deciding the fate of a once powerful Chicago politician

The federal corruption case against former Ald. Edward Burke, who amassed near-absolute power over an unprecedented 54 years in the City Council, is now in the hands of jurors after a judge today gave them more than 300 pages of instructions.

Burke is accused of using his status in the council to enrich himself through a series of attempts to extort legal work in property tax appeals, campaign contributions and other favors from business owners.

In arguing their case, federal prosecutors repeatedly pointed to secret recordings of Burke that, they say, showed the once powerful politician intended to shake down his victims.

In his closing arguments, Burke attorney Joseph Duffy last week told jurors they should “send Ed Burke home” to celebrate his 80th birthday on Dec. 29. [Chicago Sun-Times]

4. Chicago Catholics praise Pope Francis for approving blessings for same-sex couples

Catholics around the city praised Pope Francis’ approval of blessings for same-sex couples as a “significant” step and “huge shift” toward recognizing the humanity of LGBTQ+ people, my colleague David Struett reports.

“When I started work with the gay community, I never expected this to happen,” said Rick Garcia, who in the 1980s directed the Catholic Advocate for Lesbian and Gay Rights.

“This is significant because he (Francis) is looking at the humanity of LGBTQ people, and doesn’t reduce them to sexual objects. They see them as people who have relationships and family and are part of the church,” Garcia said.

The office of Cardinal Blase Cupich had no immediate comment.

The Vatican had previously declined to allow priests to bless same-sex couples, saying it would undermine church doctrine that marriage is an indissoluble union between a man and a woman.

But a new document released today by the Vatican’s doctrine office said same-sex couples can be blessed so long as they don’t confuse the ritual with the sacrament of marriage. [Chicago Sun-Times]

5. She bought a vase for $3.99 and sold it for $107,000 at a Chicago auction house

Jessica Vincent was shopping at a Goodwill store in Virginia when she spotted a green and burgundy striped vase.

Her curiosity was further stoked by a small “M” mark on the bottom of the vase, and she suspected it stood for the Italian island of Murano, which is known for its high-end glass.

Vincent bought the vase and later discovered it is an extremely rare piece designed by Carlo Scarpa, a renowned Italian architect. The vase was examined by specialists who identified it as part of Scarpa’s 1940s “Pennellate” series.

And it sold at auction for $107,100 to an unidentified private art collector in Europe last week, Block Club Chicago reports.

“I’m definitely starting out with a bang,” Vincent said, laughing. [Block Club Chicago]

Here’s what else is happening

  • President Joe Biden has reportedly become increasingly frustrated by his low poll numbers. [Washington Post]

  • U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin arrived in Israel today as pressure mounts to end the war in Gaza. [NPR]

  • Southwest Airlines reached a $140 million settlement over last year’s holiday meltdown. [AP]

  • Here are 37 ways to ring in the New Year in Chicago. [Block Club Chicago]

Oh, and one more thing …

Where can you find the best non-alcoholic drinks in Chicago?

My colleague Courtney Kueppers recently went on a search for the city’s most creative mocktails.

“What’s something I can reliably order just about anywhere that’s seasonal and not overly sweet? What bars are pushing the creativity on mocktails?” Kueppers writes.

She talked to three local drink experts who are clued into the city’s spirit-free scene.

“I don’t drink because it just doesn’t fit in my lifestyle anymore,” said Anthony Mitchell, a veteran bartender at The Revel Room in Wicker Park. “I wasn’t f---ing up my life, I wasn’t tanking my career … Nothing crazy other than, I woke up one day and I was like, I feel like s---, I hate this.” [WBEZ]

Tell me something good ...

What are your plans for New Year’s Eve?

Some of my friends are heading to a dance party from Slo ’Mo, which throws LGBTQ+ friendly events throughout the year.

But my husband and I will be heading up to the burbs to see the nephews, who are always jazzed about staying up well past their bedtime.

Feel free to email me, and your response might be shared in the newsletter this week.

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