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Protesters of a proposed winter camp for migrants at 38th Street and California Avenue voice their opposition.

Protesters of a proposed winter camp for migrants at 38th Street and California Avenue voice their opposition.

Pat Nabong

Over protests, city officials confirm Brighton Park tent plan, pending final ‘assessments’

Over protests and the local alderperson’s insistence she had nothing to do with the decision, city officials confirmed Monday evening their intention to turn a controversial site in Brighton Park into a tent shelter for migrants.

“The City of Chicago has been identifying viable sites across the city to construct base camps as an alternative to new arrivals sleeping outdoors, at O’Hare and on the floors of police district stations as winter fast approaches,” the statement from the mayor’s office reads. “The site at 38th and California appears viable, and the intention is to construct temporary shelter at this site.”

The statement is the city’s first clear confirmation it has officially designated the 12th Ward site, where many believed Mayor Brandon Johnson’s first “winterized base camp” would go after city crews were spotted recently at the large site near the Stevenson Expressway.

It comes after a contentious protest at the site last Thursday that left local Ald. Julia Ramirez (12th) and an aide battered by protesters who accused her of backing the tent plan for the neighborhood without community input.

Ramirez vehemently denied those accusations in a letter shared Sunday evening on “X,” the platform formerly known as Twitter.

“The Mayor’s office did not consult with me or my office about their current plans to construct a temporary shelter — meant to house 1,500 people — at 38th & California,” Ramirez asserts in the letter released late Sunday night.

The site actually “may serve at least 2,000 family members with children,” according to a planning document accompanying the mayor’s statement.

The city has been assessing the site since at least last week and said they will “notify residents of the outcome of this final assessment and share further operations details prior to placing any new arrivals into the facilities.”

“The City intends to stand up a base camp if the infrastructure can support it based on the results of the environmental assessments currently underway,” it reads.

The assessments included “tree trimming, removing dead trees, removing debris, grading site for hazardous conditions, illuminating areas around the site, repairing alley lighting, determining if there is existing water and sewer lines, performing various environmental assessments, and bringing water and sewer to the site.”

A spokesperson for Ramirez expressed surprise when presented with the statement by a reporter and reiterated a need for the freshman alderperson’s planned meeting set for Tuesday night at Kelly High School, 4136 S. California Ave.

“This is exactly why we are having a community meeting,” Ramirez is quoted as saying in a statement. “For the Mayor’s administration to explain their intentions.”

The owner of the site at 3708 S. California Ave. — the Barnacares Corp. according to the Cook County clerk’s database — could not be reached for comment.

After the remaining assessments are completed, the city will notify the contractor and it will take “at least 96 hours to get equipment/supplies to the site,” according to the planning document.

Following that, “it will take several days to erect, outfit, and test systems before welcoming residents.”

On Monday, there were over 3,000 migrants awaiting shelter according to the Chicago Office of Emergency Management and Communications, but the pace of arrivals is expected to accelerate.

Nearly 20,000 migrants have arrived in Chicago since the end of August 2022. Nearly 12,000 are in city shelters, but thousands have begun sleeping outside around police stations awaiting shelter, even as the cold approaches.

Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th), Johnson’s City Council floor leader, cited those conditions in defending Johnson’s plan earlier Monday.

“Difficult decisions need to be made, and [Johnson’s] making those difficult decisions,” Ramirez-Rosa said.

He also defended Ramirez’s letter, saying the alderperson had every right to call out the “misinformation” that had been used against her.

Brighton Park residents have every right to protest the winterized base camp, he added. But the “xenophobia and anti-immigrant sentiment that we saw lead to violence” against Ramirez and her top aide last week was “totally unacceptable and has got to stop.”

Michael Loria is a staff reporter for the Chicago Sun-Times via Report for America, a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster the paper’s coverage of communities on the South Side and West Side.

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