Migrant shelter at closed St. Bartholomew school expected to open next year

The Portage Park school closed this year and is expected to house up to 350 people starting as early as mid-January.

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The now-closed St. Bartholomew School, at 4941 W. Patterson Ave., will soon serve as a migrant shelter, hosting up to 350 people in the Portage Park community, city and archdiocese officials announced in early December.

The now-closed St. Bartholomew School, at 4941 W. Patterson Ave. in Portage Park, will soon serve as a migrant shelter, hosting up to 350 asylum-seekers.

Violet Miller/Sun-Times

The former St. Bartholomew School could be the first of many empty Archdiocese of Chicago properties to be converted into new arrival shelters in the coming weeks, city and church officials said.

The school at 4941 W. Patterson Ave. in the Portage Park community closed this year. The city says it could hold between 300 and 350 asylum-seekers.

In a letter to constituents last week, Ald. Ruth Cruz (30th) said an informational session for the community to learn more specific details would be scheduled in the “upcoming weeks.”

A projected move-in date wasn’t given by the city or the archdiocese, though the alderperson’s letter said the building could take in migrants as early as mid-January.

The shelter is slated to have 24/7 security, in addition to entry and re-entry screenings, “frequent” building checkups and an 11 p.m. curfew, according to a Dec. 1 news release from the city. The site also won’t permit visitors, walk-ins or alcohol, and violators of these rules could be discharged from the shelter.

In a statement released last week, the city said the shelter will also have on-site case managers to help new arrivals connect with resources.

The city of Chicago currently houses more than 13,500 asylum-seekers in 26 active shelters, with about 580 of them awaiting shelter in Chicago Police Department stations and at O’Hare and Midway airports, according to the city’s latest figures.

With construction halted on a Brighton Park tent site — which had been expected to house 2,000 asylum-seekers — because of “environmental concerns,” the city is now looking for alternatives for housing as temperatures drop.

Questions about the role of religious institutions in assisting new arrivals have been raised since buses began arriving in the city last year. But the church’s role is becoming more defined as the city works with the archdiocese to set up temporary lease agreements at empty church and school buildings.

The Our Lady of Rosary Parish pastor, the Rev. Mike O’Connell, who oversees St. Bartholomew, said the school was the first site chosen under the new agreement.

“I fully support this endeavor to save lives and to ease suffering of the refugee families who are facing the harshness of a Chicago winter,” O’Connell wrote in a message to parishioners. “In faith, hope and charity, I ask you to also support this response to the emergency we face.”

Loyda Paredes, a 40-year Chicago resident who lives down the street from the future shelter, said she worried there would be a lack of support for migrants because she had heard complaints from neighbors, but she was hopeful they would find a home in the Northwest Side community.

“We should try to accommodate people as best we can,” Paredes said. “Portage Park is a great neighborhood, it’s quiet, it’s beautiful, it’s well-maintained — why shouldn’t they be here?”

She also said she hoped the archdiocese would lease the buildings to the city for a reasonable price.

“This should not be a profit-making opportunity,” Paredes said.

Angelica Burns, who has lived down the block from the school for a few years, said that in addition to her concerns about safety, she was worried about littering in the neighborhood because she had heard it had become an issue near other city shelters.

Other than that, she said she was glad the church was stepping up to help people.

“It’s a delicate situation,” said Burns, a former West Rogers Park resident. “There’s so many people, and too many people together in one place — that’s when it creates a little bit of a problem. But hopefully things will go smoothly.”

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