Chicago Migrants

Contentious meeting over new migrant shelter held in city's Smith Park neighborhood

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Tempers flared during a community meeting regarding the opening of a new migrant shelter in Chicago’s Smith Park neighborhood. Residents debated over the proposed plan on Thursday evening as city officials aim to grapple with the migrant crisis.

The city is hoping to house up to 200 single men at a private warehouse at 526 North Western Avenue. The space of over 10,000 square feet currently has two restrooms, according to 36th Ward Alderman Gilbert Villegas. The city said more work needs to be done on the space before anyone can move in.

Residents expressed concerns over the shelter housing single men, with one resident asking if the criminal backgrounds of the migrants were known while one woman expressed apprehension regarding her safety.

“Given the nature of our neighborhood, why is this shelter focusing on single men at a location that is across the street from a liquor store and two blocks from a park?” said one woman who lives in Smith Park.

Representatives from the city and police tried to ease concerns from residents about crime and safety.

“I understand the frustration and we’re all frustrated, but we’re trying to do the best we can with what we have,” one police representative said.

“We can’t necessarily assume that because they’re single men, they’re criminals,” said Beatriz Ponce de Leon, Chicago Deputy Mayor for Immigrant, Migrant, and Refugee Rights.

The city addressed concerns over the plumbing in the building that currently only has two restrooms.

“There will be some construction happening on the facility to make sure its retrofit appropriately to include enough toilets, enough showers,” said one city representative.

With more migrants arriving from the Southern border, the city said it is opening a new shelter every six days. Organizations like Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Chicago have been helping to reunite and resettle migrants.

“The state is providing the funding for the rental assistance, so we have connected more than 5,500 folks to housing since December,” said Ami Novoryta, Catholic Charities of Archdiocese of Chicago Chief Program Officer.

As for the proposed shelter, city officials say there’s no projected move in date yet due to construction work, though they were told it would be no earlier than Oct. 18.

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