Chicago, IL – November 27, 2023
As the harsh winter approaches, city and state officials in Chicago are in a race against time to secure shelter for over 2,000 migrants currently residing in airports, police stations, and on the city’s streets. Additionally, there is a pressing need for long-term housing solutions for the thousands already squeezed into overcrowded shelters.
However, concerns have been raised by advocates who question the effectiveness of recently announced measures aimed at expediting the settlement of migrants into the city. Critics argue that these measures may exacerbate the existing humanitarian crisis, which has been fueled by the influx of thousands of people bused to Chicago from Texas.
Karina Ayala-Bermejo, the “CEO and president of the Instituto del Progreso Latino,” emphasized the urgency of the situation, stating, “So much is riding on Chicago winter, and we can’t afford for anyone in our beautiful state or city to freeze because we didn’t figure this out, to die because we didn’t figure this out.”
According to a recent city census, as of Monday morning, there were 12,251 migrants in 26 active city-run shelters, with an additional 2,175 waiting in O’Hare and Midway airports, as well as police stations, for placement. Since August 2022, over 21,700 asylum-seekers and migrants have arrived in Chicago due to Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s migrant busing program.
The surge in arrivals has strained Chicago’s social services network, with insufficient shelter beds for everyone in need. Advocates have criticized the slow process of transitioning individuals from temporary shelters to permanent, independent housing, describing it as a challenge in triaging an ecosystem already in crisis.
Johan Martinez Hernandez, a 35-year-old asylum-seeker from Venezuela, shared his struggles in finding housing after being bused to Chicago. He expressed hope that securing an apartment would provide stability and the opportunity to secure legal employment.
To move people out of shelters and into permanent housing, the state and city have implemented new restrictions on the assistance migrants can receive. This includes reducing the number of days they can stay in a shelter and limiting the amount of rental assistance they can receive, to facilitate a quicker transition to independent living.
Governor J.B. Pritzker announced a $160 million investment to address bottlenecks in the asylum-seeker resettlement pipeline. This includes funds for case management, housing assistance, legal services, winterized temporary housing for up to 2,000 migrants, and the launch of an intake center.
However, critics argue that reducing rental assistance for asylum-seekers in shelters to three months, down from six, may hinder efforts to find housing. Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson also announced a 60-day limit on shelter stays, with possible extensions under extenuating circumstances.
Advocates fear that these changes could lead to asylum-seekers facing homelessness in freezing temperatures. Reverend Kenneth Phelps highlighted concerns about the reduction in rent assistance, stating, “That binds our hands so much,” and urged continued investment in case management and support services beyond housing.
While some believe that the reduction in rental assistance may pose challenges, others, like Matt DeMateo of New Life Centers of Chicagoland, believe it could ultimately benefit more migrants. DeMateo expressed optimism about the state’s plan to submit 11,000 applications for work authorization and temporary protected status by February, aiming to address the bottlenecks in the system.
Despite the challenges, the state reported that since August 2022, approximately 9,000 migrants have been resettled in permanent housing or with relatives, both within Illinois and in other states. As Chicago navigates this complex housing crisis, the outcomes of these measures will undoubtedly shape the fate of thousands seeking refuge in the city.