Hundreds of immigrants staying at temporary shelters have been moved to North Side lakefront neighborhoods over the past few days.
The change comes just as City Colleges campuses — where hundreds have been staying over the summer — prepare to reopen for the fall semester, and as Lollapalooza returns to Grant Park on Thursday.
About 550 immigrants staying at Daley College on the South Side and at Wilbur Wright College on the Northwest Side were moved to the American Islamic College, in the 600 block of West Irving Park Road, according to the Office of Emergency Management and Communications.
According to OEMC, more than 100 people staying at the 1st District police station in the South Loop, about two miles from Grant Park, were moved to the Broadway Armory Park Fieldhouse in Edgewater, a decision that was the subject of community pushback by some residents.
A spokesperson for OEMC said the move aligned with the city’s goal of moving immigrants from police stations into shelters, although a volunteer who works with the immigrants at the 1st District said they did “the same thing during NASCAR.”
A spokesperson for Mayor Brandon Johnson echoed OEMC, saying transferring the migrants was planned in advance and not related to the influx of people headed to Grant Park for Lollapalooza.
“This move is not contingent upon any event, and is consistent with the City’s overall effort to move all new arrivals out of Chicago police stations and into shelters,” the spokesperson said in a statement from the mayor’s office.
Before the immigrants were moved from the South Loop police station to the North Side shelter, almost 1,000 were staying at police district stations throughout the city. About 5,500 were in city shelters.
Since buses sent by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott fueled an influx of migrants arriving in Chicago last spring, the city has grappled with how to best shelter them. Shelters and welcome centers have cropped up throughout the summer, but some are running out of resources and struggling to meet demand.
Allegations of sexual misconduct involving migrants have surfaced against police officers, including one who allegedly impregnated a teenage girl who immigrated to the city. The accusations drew the criticism of activists who decried the ability of the Civilian Office of Police Accountability to investigate such claims.
Now migrants are being moved once again as activists and the city work to keep migrants housed and safe with limited resources.
Josimar Goyo and Brayan Hernandez, a pair of relatives who made the trip from Venezuela together, were among those moved to the new American Islamic College shelter in Uptown from Wilbur Wright. They were moved Monday, said Hernandez, 20, and had taken a liking to it so far.
“It’s really great here,” said Goyo, 26. “There’s good food, hot water, I like it.”
The biggest improvement the pair said was the improved privacy of moving from rooms shared by hundreds of people to rooms shared among a handful of families.
Some items were discarded as migrants prepared to move, and although some people criticized the move as insensitive, 40th Ward Ald. Andre Vasquez said in a tweet that the items were mattresses or expired.
The move from the South Loop police station drew some attention after a video circulated on Twitter of city workers disposing of beds and other donations inside a city garbage truck, but Juan-Antonio Montesinos, a lead volunteer at the station, said that was expected.
“The city had to do it because we’re not able to move all the crap that people drop off there,” Montesinos said.
He said he had been volunteering since March and that people dropping off donations at police stations had good intentions but could be more helpful if they coordinated with volunteers on what was needed.
He said the volunteers had opened a “free store” in Bridgeport where immigrants could come and choose donated items to take home with them. To donate call (773) 254-6677.
Onomi, a native of Venezuela who gave only her first name, was among those moved from the police station to the North Side field house. It was her third place to stay in Chicago, after first being at O’Hare International Airport and then the station.
“I’m grateful to have a roof over my head,” she said. “But I’m tired.”
She complained about her and her daughter being shunted around without a regular chance to shower or have hot food. She doubted she would be able to sleep at the new temporary shelter either, showing a reporter a photo of a room lined with cots.
Another immigrant at the field house was also dismayed by the moves but didn’t mind the light packing they were allowed on the move to the North Side.
“We brought nothing because we have nothing,” she said with a laugh.
Michael Loria is a staff reporter at 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.