A plan to turn a West Side Park District field house into a migrant shelter — which had sparked vociferous opposition — has been abandoned in light of the falling number of migrants staying at Chicago police stations.
Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29th) announced Wednesday night that the plan to use Amundsen Park field house in Austin had been called off.
“Residents of this ward, and those that joined from the south and north ends of the city, came together to stand strong in keeping this community asset available to residents,” Taliaferro wrote in a letter to ward residents. “I thank the Mayor and his administration for listening and never closing the door to our conversations.”
Park District staff will return to the field house Dec. 4 along with winter program registration, the West Side alderman said.
Opening the shelter was no longer necessary, Taliaferro wrote, given a decreasing number of migrants arriving and other “viable housing solutions.”
The number of migrants camped out at police stations and O’Hare Airport has fallen significantly recently.
About 1,200 migrants were camped out at police stations and O’Hare Airport on Wednesday, according to the city, down from 3,300 at stations in mid-October and nearly 900 at O’Hare in early October.
Construction of the first of Mayor Brandon Johnson’s tent shelters for migrants is also well underway in Brighton Park and it’s expected to open soon.
Chicago’s handling of the migrant influx was in a very different place when the plan to turn the West Side field house into a shelter first came out.
About nine buses were arriving daily then — compared with three now — and 3,500 migrants were camped out at stations and O’Hare.
But residents fiercely opposed closing the field house in a community that they said was underserved.
Comedian and West Side native Hannibal Buress even joked about it at a recent show at the Chicago Theatre. Before returning to the city, the performer said he had heard about the migrant crisis but only realized the severity of it when attending Taliaferro’s community meeting at the field house.
After that meeting, residents marched to the mayor’s house in Austin to protest, Buress claimed, and said he later tried to warn Johnson about the unpopularity of the plan.
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.