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Chicago plans to move migrants to other shelters and reopen park buildings for summer

CHICAGO– Chicago plans to close five migrant shelters in the coming weeks and move nearly 800 people, including families, to reopen park district buildings hosting popular summer camps, sports competitions and other events communities in time for the summer.

The change is part of the city’s ongoing struggle to meet the needs of people arriving from the U.S. border with Mexico.

Advocates for newcomers have frequently criticized Mayor Brandon Johnson, a Democrat, and argue that available services are inadequate. Others believe Chicago unfairly prioritizes newcomers over longtime residents, including unhoused people with similar needs.

Johnson announced plans this week to close the park district’s shelters, saying they were “no longer needed.”

“I am proud of the efforts of my administration, our partners and the many Chicagoans who stepped up to welcome newcomers by providing shelter in our Park District homes at a time when it was clearly needed,” Johnson said in a statement Monday. .

“We are grateful to the aldermen and communities who welcomed new neighbors with open arms, and we are pleased that these park facilities will return to their intended purpose in time for summer programming.”

Chicago has reported the arrival of more than 37,000 migrants to the city since 2022, when Texas Gov. Greg Abbott began sending busloads of people to so-called sanctuary cities. Many of the migrants arriving in Chicago come from Venezuela, where a social, political and economic crisis has plunged millions into poverty and where three-quarters of residents live on less than $1.90 a day.

The city initially used police stations and airports as authorities searched for other temporary shelters. Some residents in neighborhoods surrounding some of the park district lands have regularly protested their use as shelters since last summer.

A city dashboard Friday showed more than 10,000 people remained in city-run shelters. That’s down from the peak of nearly 15,000 in January.

The city has not said when all of the park’s buildings will be empty, but that it will take several weeks. Volunteers who work with the migrants said residents of at least two of the park’s buildings have been told they will begin moving to other shelters on Saturday.

Nearly 20 other temporary shelters are still operating in the city, including churches, hotels, a library and former warehouses. The largest shelters are housing more than 1,000 people while others have reported numbers closer to 100, according to the city’s latest update this month.

The city aims to move people to other shelters closer to park buildings, particularly families whose children are enrolled in nearby schools, Johnson’s statement said.

Chicago began imposing a 60-day limit on shelter stays in mid-March. But numerous exemptions, including for families whose children are in school, mean that few people are still expelled.

So far, the city has only reported 24 people leaving shelters because of the caps.

Other U.S. cities, including New York and Denver, have used similar shelter limits to deal with limited resources available to migrants arriving by bus and plane. The mayors also advocated for more federal aid.

In Chicago, evictees can return to the city’s “landing zone” and reapply for housing. Volunteers said that sometimes means people leave a shelter and are returned to the same place.

Volunteers who work with newcomers said they understand neighborhoods’ desire to return to park facilities, especially for camps and other popular programs during the summer months.

But they fear that this forced displacement will disrupt migrants’ efforts to find work and send their children to school.

“Most people are actively and constantly trying to figure out how they can get out of shelters,” said volunteer Lydia Wong. “I don’t know at all if that helps speed things up. The city says it wants to keep people relatively close, but that is extremely disruptive: It has to find new routes, new ways to get to school or work.

Several people living in the park’s shelters told The Associated Press this week that they had received little information about the city’s plan, including where they might be moved. They declined to give their names, with several saying they did not want to face reprisals from employees of the private agency that runs the shelters.

On Wednesday, the city said more than 15,000 people had found alternative housing since officials began keeping data in 2022.

Many have applied for state-provided rental assistance. More than 5,600 families have used the program to find housing, according to the Illinois Department of Human Services.

With few exceptions, such as diplomats and people on tourist visas, immigrants to the United States must notify authorities of their move.

Asylum seekers in immigration courts have five days to do so after changing their address to ensure they receive notices from the court. Missing mail may not directly derail their case, but failure to show up for a court date could lead to their deportation.

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Associated Press reporter Cedar Attanasio contributed from New York.

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