Officials discuss plans for shelter for migrants at former St. Bartholomew school
by BRENDAN HENEGHAN
Residents attended Saint Bartholomew Church, 3601 N. Lavergne Ave. Monday evening, Dec. 18, to hear plans on using the former school at 4910 W. Addison St. and a nearby parish convent to house between 300 to 350 migrants beginning next month.
“The city chose our building as suitable for their needs as a temporary shelter,” Father Mike O’Connell said to a large crowd. “We have been involved in the migrant community since the summer, hosting masses at 6 on Sunday nights, with a dinner afterwards.”
Alderwoman Ruth Cruz (30th) said that the next several months will pose challenges. “We are committed not only to helping migrants, but everyone else.”
“As leaders of this community, it is incumbent upon us to manage this situation. It is imperative we don’t leave these families stranded on the streets. However we also have a duty to ensure the safety and well-being of our residents. Together we will respond to the crisis in a humanitarian way,” Cruz said.
Applause followed, but some residents voiced concerns about crime and the homeless crisis facing the city. At times police officers asked several attendees to behave. Some residents were concerned about drug sales and others were concerned that veterans are not being taken care of.
“Of 14,000 migrants currently in shelters, the vast majority are not committing crimes,” said Beatriz Ponce de Leon, first deputy mayor of Immigrant, Migrant, and Refugee Rights.
“There are only two cases (of crimes) that we know of. We will have 24/7 on-site security, strict curfews, and a beat car will stop in and check for problems,” 16th (Jefferson Park) District commander Heather Daniel said.
The central concerns to tackle the crisis involve finding housing, jobs, public health, and family members with whom to reunite new arrivals. City officials have said in the past that the migrants will be given 60 days to make other living arrangements before they would be asked to leave the temporary shelter.
“Mutual aid groups are the main drivers (of mending the crisis),” said state Senator Natalie Toro (D-20). “We’re doing everything we can to support our neighbors. People at the doors care about how we’re going to help migrant families. We’ve secured $300 million in investments from the state.”
“We welcomed 30,000 Ukrainian refugees to Chicago. They’ve become part of our community. We are in the middle of a humanitarian crisis. People are crossing the Southern border asking for asylum and being sent to many different cities. Texas’ governor is busing them to cities everywhere. We have 14,000 people in 27 shelters. They are in a safe place instead of becoming part of our unhoused population. We have seen 604 buses of people come to Chicago since August,” Ponce de Leon said.
“Since September we have focused on retiring police districts. We’re shifting from responding with police stations to having temporary shelter available to everyone. We’re working with the Office of Emergency Management and Family Support Services, in addition to hundreds of volunteers and mutual aid groups helping with food and clothing,” Ponce de Leon said.
Cook County Commissioner Anthony Quezada said that every person coming through the shelter program is being seen by Cook County Health personnel.
“Since Sept. of 2022, we have helped over 17,000 patients with physicals, vaccinations, and behavior health screening. We’ve had over 73,000 visits to our clinic. We are also calling on President Biden to play a much larger role,” Quezada said.