Starting Friday, migrants entering the city’s shelter system will now be limited to 60 day stays and will no longer be eligible to receive a state-administered rental assistance program, according to new details released by Mayor Brandon Johnson’s administration.
Both single adults and families who have not yet found more permanent housing by the end of the 60-day limit must return to the city’s landing zone and request a new shelter placement, his office said Friday. Extensions may be granted in extenuating circumstances, like in the case of a medical crisis, extreme cold weather or a move-in date for an apartment or housing that is after the limit expires.
Migrants currently in the city’s shelter system will receive 60-day day move-out notices in phases based on when they first entered the shelter system. About 50 people who have been in the shelter system since last year will start receiving notices today. Another 12,000 people who entered the shelter system this year will get extensions between weeks and months under the new policy. Migrants who have just arrived will get 60-day notices when they get into shelters.
The new 60-day limits are in sharp contrast to the monthslong stays many migrants have experienced in city shelters as they wait for housing to become available. Asked Friday if the new restrictions will push migrants into homelessness, Johnson’s First Deputy Chief of Staff Cristina Pacione-Zayas told reporters that migrants’ “resilience” combined with case management services will help them reach self-sufficiency.
“I’m just suggesting that when you go this far, come to Chicago, I think there’s something in your constitution that you’re gonna figure out a way to be on this path for self-sufficiency and independence,” Pacione-Zayas said.
The city says the new time limits on shelter stays will also coincide with the state and city increasing staff at the landing zone where buses arrive to help migrants reunite with their friends or family or reach their final destination if it is not Chicago. The city will also begin fining bus companies that disregard the city’s curfew, landing zone locations and drop-off protocols. Only two buses can arrive each hour between the hours of 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, Pacione-Zayas said.
Migrants who need to request an additional shelter stay at the expiration of the 60 days will have to give up their spot to make room for someone new to enter the system. Department of Family and Support Services Commissioner Brandie Knazze said it’s “hard to say” how long it will take for a new shelter request to be approved, “because we don’t know how many more people we will continue to receive.”
Asked how the 60-day limit will be enforced and if police will be involved, Knazze said she “really can’t say, because we have not gotten there yet.” On Wednesday, a Chicago Police Department spokesperson referred questions about the department’s involvement to the mayor’s office.
Johnson announced some of the new restrictions Wednesday during a press conference, but did not provide additional detail on how the new policies will work in practice until Friday morning via a news release.
The new restrictions follow in the footsteps of cities like New York and Denver, and represent the most hardline stance the city has taken so far to try to more quickly clear space in the city’s shelter system that is at capacity and housing 12,095 residents across 25 shelters, as of Friday morning.
Another 2,217 migrants are sleeping across police station lobbies and O’Hare and Midway airports as they wait for a spot in maxed-out shelters. The city has received over 21,000 migrants since August of last year.
The federal government has been piloting clinics in Chicago to help migrants apply for work authorizations, and the city said its goal is to assist 11,000 new arrivals with applying for work permits and temporary protected status by February 2024.
“There are three anchors to this new phase in our plan: creating pathways to resettlement, community integration and reunification, creating jobs for Chicagoans in staffing the New Arrivals Mission, and building public infrastructure for the public good,” Johnson said in a news release Friday.
The city has been beating the drum for additional funding, and on Thursday the state announced an additional $160 million and Cook County another $90 million earmarked specifically to assist with supporting migrants.
But that new funding will also come with changes to a state-administered rental assistance program for asylum-seekers. It will be halved from six months total of assistance to just three months and a move-in fee for those currently in the city’s shelter system in an effort to fund more households. New migrants entering the shelter system will not be eligible to receive the rental subsidies, although other housing supports will be provided, the state said. Housing case management will be provided in all of the city’s shelters going forward, compared to the only 14 shelters that had those services, Pacione-Zayas said Friday.
Nearly 3,600 applications have been received for the rental assistance, with a total of $19.5 million doled out to 2,525 households, Andrew Field, a spokesman for the Illinois Housing Development Authority said Thursday.
Migrants in city shelters can receive assistance from Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Chicago to find an apartment, or secure a lease on their own and then apply for the rental assistance. According to Friday’s news release, the city has helped resettle more than 7,000 people, including 2,700 households, into long-term housing, while reuniting more than 2,500 people with family, friends or sponsors.
This summer, migrants told WBEZ they had stayed in city shelters for over eight months as they waited for limited spots for more permanent housing with the help of the rental assistance program.
Karina Ayala-Bermejo, the president and CEO of the Instituto del Latino Progreso, said Thursday they are still waiting on applications for temporary protected status and work authorizations to be approved for migrants her organization has helped apply through legal clinics. Ayala-Bermejo, who is also a member of the Illinois Latino Agenda, said it will require “true vigilance” to make sure that migrants whose three-month rental assistance is set to run out are prioritized so they can secure work legally to continue to afford housing.
“Really looking at how we can help expedite the work authorizations for those individuals, because those are the ones that if they don’t have that, will be hitting the street and we’re starting all over again,” Ayala-Bermejo said, “and will be added to the other thousands of unhoused individuals.”
Andre Gordillo, the director of the New Vecinos program at New Life Centers that is helping asylum seekers settle into permanent housing, previously told WBEZ the new 60-day timeline is “a little aggressive” compared to the two to three months on average he estimates migrants have been living in city shelters before they have been able to move into housing.
He worries about whether there will be enough apartments available come winter.
“If a person’s 60 days is up Feb. 1, is there going to be housing available for them?” Gordillo said. “It’s not the most ideal time, I think, to make the announcement knowing that winter’s coming and folks don’t move normally when it’s 20 degrees out and a few inches of snow on the ground.”
The city has continued to try to acquire and open more permanent brick-and-mortar shelters, but with temperatures set to plummet next week, the city has been slow to construct “winterized base camps,” that can house thousands of people in large tent-like structures. The plan was first announced in September and the sites have faced fierce pushback from residents in neighborhoods where they are slated to be constructed, with one protest against a proposed base camp leading to an alderwoman and her staff being physically battered before they were escorted away by the police.
As part of the state’s $160 million in new funding to support migrants, $30 million will be specifically earmarked for an intake center. A location is still being identified, Pacione-Zayas said, with the hope for a building close to where buses arrive.
Another $65 million will be for a winterized “soft shelter site” that could offer temporary housing to as many as 2,000 people for up to six months. However, Illinois Department of Human Services’ Kirstin Chernawsky told reporters Friday that a location has not been chosen but that it will “be announced shortly.” Chernawsky said it may be in addition to – or part of – two sites for base camps that Johnson’s administration has been assessing in Brighton Park and Morgan Park. Base camps are not up and running yet at either site.
“Government moves at a snail’s pace,” Pacione-Zayas said Friday.
Tessa Weinberg covers city government and politics for WBEZ.