Mayor Johnson says migrants being housed at Chicago Park District facilities to be moved starting Saturday

Mayor Johnson says migrants being housed at Chicago Park District facilities to be moved starting Saturday

Mayor Brandon Johnson’s administration announced that on Saturday it will begin removing about 800 migrants who have been housed inside five Chicago Park District facilities across the city, opening up the last of the field houses to the public again.

The use of the five sites where migrants will be cleared — Gage Park and Piotrowski Park, both on the Southwest Side, the Broadway Armory Park and Leone Park, both on the Far North Side, and Brands Park on the Northwest Side — has generated significant controversy in the neighborhoods where they are located. The city was placing migrants in Park District space that is traditionally used for athletic and enrichment activities.

In announcing the decision Monday, city officials said they anticipate full summer programming to return to those Park District locations while the hundreds of migrants affected will be relocated to shelter spaces across the city that have become more open as overall migrant arrivals have declined.

Migrants, most sent on buses from Texas, will be “transitioned to nearby shelters, minimizing disruptions with schooling and work,” according to a news release from Johnson’s administration. City agencies will prioritize moving migrants to shelters that are close by and children are expected to remain in the same schools.

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

The most recent city census of where migrants are being housed show that as of Friday there were 109 migrant family members at Brands Park, 3259 N. Elston Ave., 208 family members at Broadway Armory, 5917 N. Broadway, 279 single adults at Gage Park, 2411 W. 55th St., 57 single adults at the Leone Boathouse, 1222 W. Touhy Ave., and 142 migrant family members at Piotrowski Park, 4247 W. 31st St.

There are currently over 10,500 migrants in 23 shelters run by the city and state, down from a peak of 14,900 in December.

The Johnson administration thanked aldermen for allowing the city to house migrants at field houses — though last summer, some of them said they were not looped into the process of deciding where and how to best house migrants in their wards.

Of the six field houses that were transitioned to provide temporary housing for migrants starting in May 2023, one shelter in North Park was already dismantled in February to be used as an early voting site, officials said. The Park District will help facilitate the process to ensure the facilities are ready to resume programming.

The closure of the five shelters comes as criticism over Johnson’s migrant response has sharpened on the political left in response to the city beginning migrant evictions more than a week ago.

The Chicago City Council’s Progressive Caucus — some of Johnson’s closest aldermanic allies — bucked his administration last week to pen a letter urging an end to the city’s 60-day migrant shelter policy that has seen 24 individuals required to leave so far. The progressive aldermen said they were worried asylum-seekers were being forced to leave their temporary housing situations with many still lacking work permits and rental assistance, both of which are critical to moving toward self-sufficiency.

At the same time, pressure is mounting on Johnson to find more money to sustain the city’s costly operation, which he has said requires more support from the state and federal government. The consolidation from the shelter closures is another reflection of the monthslong shift by Johnson toward attempting to reduce the footprint of the city’s temporary shelter system.

In total, Johnson allocated $150 million in his 2024 budget for the migrant mission, but costs will likely land at more than double that, officials have previously estimated. However, his deputy chief of staff, Cristina Pacione-Zayas, said earlier this month that the previous projection of funds being depleted by April is no longer accurate thanks to fiscal trimming of the operation.

Anyeli Carvojal, 21, from Caracas, Venezuela, stood outside the armory-turned-shelter in Edgewater. She cradled her 8-month-old baby Santiago and processed the news the shelter — where she’d been staying since February — was closing down.

Because the migrants knew no one in Chicago, Corvojal said the community they developed at the field house had become like family.

Dios le bendiga mi amor. God bless you, my love,” said a woman passing by the toddler and his mother.

Meanwhile, Pat Sharkey, a convener of the Coalition of Edgewater Block Clubs and Residents’ Associations who advocated in January for the city to restore its programming at Broadway Armory, said she was “really pleased with this decision.”

Sharkey said that housing migrants at the facility was especially difficult for the hundreds of kids whose basketball, floor hockey and gymnastics programs were displaced this year. The neighborhood kids, she said, need sports and activities to stay away from gangs and violence.

“For the community, this can’t come fast enough,” she said. “There’s a lot of kids who have just been shut out.”

In Rogers Park, bikes were stacked up against the fences surrounding the field house at the neighborhood’s Leone Beach Park. For almost a year, migrants there have been sleeping on cots inside.

Leaver Hernandez, 31, wore sweatpants and slides as he smoked a cigarette outside, saying he already had plans to re-apply for shelter services after his eviction date set for mid-April.

“They haven’t communicated that the shelter is closing,” Hernandez said when asked.

Aldermen who have migrant shelters in park field houses in their wards said Monday their communities were ready to have their park programming back.

“Little Village has always been a supportive partner in the New Arrivals Mission,” Ald. Mike Rodriguez, 22nd, said in a statement about the return of Piotrowski Park’s programs. “We as a community have opened our doors and our hearts to our new neighbors, and this support has allowed new arrivals to successfully navigate resettlement across the city.”

His colleague Ald. Leni Manaa-Hoppenworth, 48th, added she was “proud of the 48th Ward for stepping up,” while noting that “Broadway Armory Park is the only park in our ward, and our young people are excited to have access to the park and park programming once again.”

Speaking with community members outside the field house in Gage Park, Ald. Raymond Lopez, 15th, celebrated the news but also expressed caution over the planned timeline being met and the likelihood there will be more waves of buses.

“We know that there are plenty of politicians out there who are seeking to embarrass Chicago in advance of the Democratic National Convention,” Lopez said. “If we don’t use this time right now to get our act together, we could very well be back in the same situation. I don’t want to open up the park again. I don’t want to have to see my community have to deal with this.”

Julio Ocampo, a father of two, said the single adults living at the center presented safety concerns and that the adult migrants used up too much parking and public spaces. He gave Lopez three hugs while the alderman addressed reporters.

“We protect our neighborhood and we want to care for our neighborhood,” Ocampo said. “I’m going to go home and do a little jig — that’s how happy I am.”