Construction workers put the finishing touches on a 500-bed temporary COVID-19 hospital at McCormick Place on April 3, 2020. It ended up going unused.

Construction workers put the finishing touches on a 500-bed temporary COVID-19 hospital at McCormick Place on April 3, 2020. It ended up going unused.

Chris Sweda / Chicago Tribune pool photo

More than 1,200 beds from McCormick Place COVID-19 temporary hospital go unused amid immigrant housing crisis

The city kept 126 beds but isn’t using them. The state has 1,125 more beds from the makeshift hospital but says the city hasn’t asked for them. And the city is missing out on $30 million from Springfield to support immigrants.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Gov. J.B. Pritzker stood together in April 2020 at the start of the coronavirus pandemic to showcase the rapid transformation of an empty convention hall at McCormick Place East into a medical facility with 500 beds — and 2,500 more to be installed later.

It turned out the makeshift COVID-19 hospital wasn’t needed because existing hospitals were able, after all, to meet the demand of treating coronavirus patients. So the beds were moved to warehouses, and the facility was dismantled as quickly as it was set up.

Now, with at least 8,500 refugees from Latin America having been transported to Chicago from Texas since last August in a political tug-of-war over national immigration policy, those beds are available for use in temporary shelters.

The city kept 126 full-size beds from the McCormick Place temporary hospital. City officials say it would be difficult to set them up quickly because the beds include a mattress, headboard, footboard, bed frame and no linens.

Instead, the Lightfoot administration chose to send cots for immigrants to sleep on at temporary shelters because they’re “easy to deploy and set up during an emergency,” according to Mary May, a spokeswoman for the city’s Office of Emergency Management and Communications.

“At this time, it is simply not as practical to use the limited number of beds we have in storage.”

That’s drawing criticism from Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th).

“One of the biggest things we need are beds,” Sigcho-Lopez said. “We can certainly use them.”

Mayor Lori Lightfoot, Gov. J.B. Pritzker and U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., tour the COVID-19 care facility in Hall C at McCormick Place on April 17, 2020.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot, Gov. J.B. Pritzker and U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., tour the COVID-19 care facility in Hall C at McCormick Place on April 17, 2020.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere / Sun-Times

The state has kept 750 “quick beds” and 375 hospital beds from the McCormick Place field hospital, according to Kevin Sur, a spokesman for the Illinois Emergency Management Agency and Office of Homeland Security. A quick bed is a heavy, sturdy, tubular metal frame bed. The hospital beds are powered to help position a patient for better care and recovery, he said.

Sur said the state is willing to provide those beds to the city, but the city hasn’t requested them.

Sigcho-Lopez said the fact that the city hasn’t asked the state for the beds shows “a lack of coordination between the city and the state. These are some of the resources that could be used to address this humanitarian crisis. They had months to plan for this, and they failed.”

He said he’s been busy finding places in his largely Latino ward on the Southwest Side to shelter the continuing stream of immigrants, many of them from Venezuela.

Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th).

Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th).

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere / Sun-Times

Sigcho-Lopez said he condemns the Republican governors in Texas and Florida for busing people to Illinois and other Northern states and “trying to gain politically on their suffering. But we have not seen leadership from Illinois to secure resources that are available to respond to this real crisis.”

He said he thinks the Lightfoot administration should have worked more closely with the mostly African American South Shore and Woodlawn communities to explain the need for converting public spaces into shelters for the immigrants.

Residents of those communities have opposed housing migrants in vacant public facilities in their neighborhoods.

“I understand the frustration,” Sigcho-Lopez said.

He said he’s trying to identify public facilities to house immigrants in his ward, where many residents speak Spanish, saying they might be more amenable to having them staying in their communities.

In her farewell speech Monday, Lightfoot didn’t talk about the immigrant crisis, which for months has left some families sleeping on the floors of Chicago police stations without beds or showers as they wait for shelter.

As of last week, more than 3,000 immigrants were being housed in temporary shelters.

An Illinois Department of Human Services memo from April 30 detailed that the state has spent $150 million to support asylum workers. The state also received an additional $90 million that was allocated by the Illinois General Assembly in a supplemental budget in January — led by efforts of its Latino Caucus.

The $90 million went to support Cook County and the city to help asylum-seekers, including $60.34 million for hotel shelter services.

In addition to the $90 million allocation, the Pritzker administration agreed to give the city $20 million to support services for newly arrived immigrants. Soon after, the city asked for more, and state officials agreed to provide an additional $10 million — totaling $30 million.

But of the total pot of $30 million the city can receive to support asylum-seekers, City Hall hasn’t provided any invoices — meaning Illinois can’t dole out that money, according to state officials.

A spokesman for Mayor-elect Brandon Johnson said he would not comment until he takes office next week.

The spokesman pointed to a written statement last week from Johnson in which he said: “What we will do Day One is make sure there is a real effort to coordinate our resources at the federal, state, county and city levels.”

How to help migrants coming to Chicago

How to help immigrants coming to Chicago

New immigrants in Chicago need basic necessities, the city says. Here is a list of recommended actions from organizations, community groups and legislators in Chicago offering aid:
  • Find out how to support the city’s official partnership with churches — the Unity Initiative — at its website, or support the Faith Community Initiative, an independent effort, at its website.
  • The Chicago Furniture Bank is helping furnish their homes. Request a furniture pickup at its website, or donate items to its warehouse at 4801 S. Whipple St. in Brighton Park.
  • New Life Centers, the nonprofit arm of the network of local churches, has taken the lead in welcoming migrants at the city’s designated site for bus arrivals, along with city staff. To donate to that effort, as well as support their other efforts, visit the Nuevos Vecinos section of its website.
  • Instituto del Progreso Latino has an Amazon wishlist from which people can purchase items, and Cradles to Crayons has a wishlist and a list of locations where items can be dropped off, as does One Warm Coat.
  • Find volunteering opportunities on Chi Welcome, a Facebook page dedicated to helping migrants around Chicago; Neighbors Helping Our New Neighbors, a South Side specific group; and Refugee Community Connection, which is aimed at helping the refugee community more broadly.

Find more information here.

If you are an organization offering assistance to immigrants and would like to be added to this list, contact



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