Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Gov. J.B. Pritzker stood together in April 2020 at the start of the coronavirus pandemic to showcase the rapid transformation of an empty convention hall at McCormick Place East into a medical facility with 500 beds — and 2,500 more to be installed later.
It turned out the makeshift COVID-19 hospital wasn’t needed because existing hospitals were able, after all, to meet the demand of treating coronavirus patients. So the beds were moved to warehouses, and the facility was dismantled as quickly as it was set up.
Now, with at least 8,500 refugees from Latin America having been transported to Chicago from Texas since last August in a political tug-of-war over national immigration policy, those beds are available for use in temporary shelters.
The city kept 126 full-size beds from the McCormick Place temporary hospital. City officials say it would be difficult to set them up quickly because the beds include a mattress, headboard, footboard, bed frame and no linens.
Instead, the Lightfoot administration chose to send cots for immigrants to sleep on at temporary shelters because they’re “easy to deploy and set up during an emergency,” according to Mary May, a spokeswoman for the city’s Office of Emergency Management and Communications.
“At this time, it is simply not as practical to use the limited number of beds we have in storage.”
That’s drawing criticism from Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th).
“One of the biggest things we need are beds,” Sigcho-Lopez said. “We can certainly use them.”
The state has kept 750 “quick beds” and 375 hospital beds from the McCormick Place field hospital, according to Kevin Sur, a spokesman for the Illinois Emergency Management Agency and Office of Homeland Security. A quick bed is a heavy, sturdy, tubular metal frame bed. The hospital beds are powered to help position a patient for better care and recovery, he said.
Sur said the state is willing to provide those beds to the city, but the city hasn’t requested them.
Sigcho-Lopez said the fact that the city hasn’t asked the state for the beds shows “a lack of coordination between the city and the state. These are some of the resources that could be used to address this humanitarian crisis. They had months to plan for this, and they failed.”
He said he’s been busy finding places in his largely Latino ward on the Southwest Side to shelter the continuing stream of immigrants, many of them from Venezuela.
Sigcho-Lopez said he condemns the Republican governors in Texas and Florida for busing people to Illinois and other Northern states and “trying to gain politically on their suffering. But we have not seen leadership from Illinois to secure resources that are available to respond to this real crisis.”
He said he thinks the Lightfoot administration should have worked more closely with the mostly African American South Shore and Woodlawn communities to explain the need for converting public spaces into shelters for the immigrants.
Residents of those communities have opposed housing migrants in vacant public facilities in their neighborhoods.
“I understand the frustration,” Sigcho-Lopez said.
He said he’s trying to identify public facilities to house immigrants in his ward, where many residents speak Spanish, saying they might be more amenable to having them staying in their communities.
In her farewell speech Monday, Lightfoot didn’t talk about the immigrant crisis, which for months has left some families sleeping on the floors of Chicago police stations without beds or showers as they wait for shelter.
As of last week, more than 3,000 immigrants were being housed in temporary shelters.
An Illinois Department of Human Services memo from April 30 detailed that the state has spent $150 million to support asylum workers. The state also received an additional $90 million that was allocated by the Illinois General Assembly in a supplemental budget in January — led by efforts of its Latino Caucus.
The $90 million went to support Cook County and the city to help asylum-seekers, including $60.34 million for hotel shelter services.
In addition to the $90 million allocation, the Pritzker administration agreed to give the city $20 million to support services for newly arrived immigrants. Soon after, the city asked for more, and state officials agreed to provide an additional $10 million — totaling $30 million.
But of the total pot of $30 million the city can receive to support asylum-seekers, City Hall hasn’t provided any invoices —Â meaning Illinois can’t dole out that money, according to state officials.
A spokesman for Mayor-elect Brandon Johnson said he would not comment until he takes office next week.
The spokesman pointed to a written statement last week from Johnson in which he said: “What we will do Day One is make sure there is a real effort to coordinate our resources at the federal, state, county and city levels.”
How to help immigrants coming to Chicago
Newly arrived immigrants in Chicago are in need of basic necessities, the city says. Here is a list of recommended actions from organizations, community groups and legislators in Chicago offering aid:
- Purchase items off Instituto del Progreso Latino’s Amazon wishlist.
- Donate to Park Community Church and Refugee Community Connection’s free store.
- Donate new and gently used items at 40th Ward Ald. Andre Vasquez’s office. Find the list of requested items and a volunteer sign-up form here.
- Donate to Organized Communities Against Deportation’s fundraising campaign, which will donate $300 cash contributions to families and individuals in need.
- Donate to Albany Park Mutual Aid’s Support Asylum Seekers Fund, which will provide care kits to immigrants in the Albany Park Police District.
- Donate items to Erie Neighborhood House, a social services nonprofit seeking donations of clothing and hygienic products.
Find more information here.
If you are an organization offering assistance to immigrants and would like to be added to this list contact email@example.com.