NW Side residents express support and disapproval of plan to house immigrant families at Wilbur Wright College

The shelter would alleviate pressure on police stations, which have turned into temporary shelters for more than 700 asylum-seekers across the city, officials said.

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A woman holds a sign in support of asylum-seekers during a public meeting Tuesday at Wilbur Wright College on the Northwest Side. The city hopes to relieve pressure on police stations by moving migrants to the campus through August.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Times

At an often-tense community meeting Tuesday, Northwest Side residents were split on the city’s plan to house up to 400 asylum-seekers at a temporary shelter at Wilbur Wright College.

Hundreds attended the meeting, which was held in the school’s gymnasium, the same space that would be used to house migrants. It was nearly derailed at the start when Juan Salgado, chancellor of City Colleges of Chicago, spoke to the crowd about his support for the city’s plan.

“As chancellor, I am confident that this will go well,” Salgado said, drawing a loud round of boos from many and prompting 38th Ward Ald. Nick Sposato to take the mic to ask his constituents to allow speakers to have their say.

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Ald. Nick Sposato (38th) speaks at the community forum. Sposato called on audience members to be respectful after some speakers were met with boos.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Times

“Please folks, we’re better than this,” Sposato said. “Please be respectful.” Several audience members responded to Sposato’s plea with claps and cheers. The meeting proceeded as planned, though there was still plenty of booing and cheering from the crowd.

Officials at the meeting, which included representatives from the Office of Emergency Management and Communications, Chicago police and the Department of Family and Support Services, said the respite shelter would help migrant families who have been sleeping on the floors of police stations.

More than 700 people, including many young children, have had to find temporary shelter at stations across the city, putting tremendous strain on officers and districts, as organizations work to find them permanent beds, officials said.

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“Right now, Wright College is the solution that we need” to help relieve pressure on some of those stations, said Matt Doughtie, emergency coordinator with OEMC.

The shelter at the school, located at 4300 N. Narragansett Ave, would only house families, officials said, and the earliest move-in date for them would be Saturday. They would remain on campus until Aug. 1.

CPD Deputy Chief Stephen Chung said the department would add additional patrols in the area while the migrants were on campus and said incidents at other respite shelters have been “minimal.”

“You can’t even respond to 911 calls now,” an audience member shouted.

Some at the meeting welcomed the move, saying it marked another chapter in Chicago’s story as a city of immigrants. Many held signs reading “welcome” and “bienvenidos.”

Others argued that the resources being used to feed and house migrants should be used to tackle local issues, like homelessness. They added that migrants should instead be housed closer to downtown, in places like Navy Pier and McCormick Place.

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Reaction among the large crowd to plans to house migrants at Wilbur Wright College were mixed. Some held signs of welcome. Several had concerns about health and safety in the neighborhood. A police official said patrols would be beefed-up during the time the migrants are living on campus.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Times

During the meeting’s question-and-answer portion, a woman came forward and asked, “How can we help?” eliciting more boos and cheers.

One man said “they don’t belong here, they’ll be bringing disease to the neighborhood.”

Another woman, worried about safety in the neighborhood, asked how the city could guarantee that the migrants wouldn’t disregard their 11 p.m. curfew.

“They can just roam the neighborhood. We have seniors, children, disabled. Do all these people have background checks?” she asked.

Others were worried about the burden on taxpayers. “Who is paying for this, for them to be here,” asked one man.

CPD officials were asked if the resources dedicated to the shelter would leave other areas vulnerable. “We have plenty of resources,” Chung, the deputy chief, said. Someone in the crowded shouted “liar!”

But a woman asked her community to treat migrants with dignity and set a good example for their children, saying, “We teach our children to be compassionate. Let’s show them compassion. Let’s show them empathy.”

A similar move to turn a shuttered school in the South Shore neighborhood into a respite center for asylum-seekers was met with ire from some local residents. A group of them filed a lawsuit against the city, seeking an injunction to prevent the plan from being put into action.

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