About 250 migrants could begin moving into a former school-turned-shelter in the Woodlawn neighborhood in the next week despite continued resistance from some nearby residents.
Representatives of the city, including Brandie Knazze, commissioner of the Department of Family and Support Services, shared plans for the former Wadsworth Elementary School with about 50 residents and stakeholders during a community meeting Saturday at Hyde Park Academy High School.
The Wadsworth shelter is part of the city’s response to the thousands of migrants who have arrived in Chicago on more than 100 buses from Texas and Colorado since August. The city still sees an average of 10 new arrivals per day, according to the Department of Family and Support Services.
City officials at Saturday’s meeting did not have an exact date but said the migrants are set to move into the shelter as early as the coming week. The shelter will remain open 24/7, and the city plans to use the old school as a shelter for up to two years.
The shelter will have 24/7 security at all entrances provided by the city, and the Chicago Police Department is implementing a community safety plan, which includes regular visits to the shelter. Chicago police 3rd district Commander Roderick Watson said Saturday police, including the department’s community safety team, will be ready to respond to emergencies at the shelter or if additional security is needed.
Residents of the shelter will receive and sign a copy of the shelter’s rules and expectations upon moving in, the city said. Rules include signing in and out when entering or exiting the shelter, abiding by an 11 p.m. curfew, not allowing visitors and no use of drugs or alcohol on the property.
Several people shared frustrations Saturday about plans for the shelter, saying they were brought to the table too late in the conversation. Some said they felt cheated out of resources that could have been reinvested into those struggling in the Woodlawn community.
Carol Waitse, a 22-year homeowner in Woodlawn who lives across the street from the shelter, said she signed up to speak at the meeting Saturday to “reiterate the significance of the opposition” and “emphasize our disappointment.”
“We’ve had a lot of conversations but honestly it feels like our concerns are still falling on deaf ears,” she said. “The office of community engagement is really feeling like the office of community enforcement, because we’re not getting feedback on some very important issues.”
Knazze said no resources were diverted from the community or other programs to help those who need it locally, as the work being done for local residents is separate from what is being done to help migrants.
“This is a state of emergency,” she said. “We’re trying to make sure that residents are treated with dignity and respect and that they have a safe place to stay while they figure out their next destination.”
Knazze said her department funds several programs and services, including early learning, youth homelessness and senior support as well as human services and workforce programs.
Knazze said at a town hall-style meeting earlier in January at the Apostolic Church of God in Woodlawn that the city plans to share biweekly updates with Ald. Jeanette Taylor on matters such as capacity at the shelter, challenges or successes and upcoming plans. There are also plans for monthly community meetings for the first three months the shelter is open followed by bimonthly meetings thereafter.