South Shore residents blast plan to turn former school into shelter for migrants: ‘We don’t want them in this building’

Residents said the neighborhood is in dire need of the resources being used to help asylum-seekers and that the city should instead house them on the North Side.

SHARE South Shore residents blast plan to turn former school into shelter for migrants: ‘We don’t want them in this building’
An angry resident stands amid a crowd to shout at city officials at a South Shore community meeting.

Angry residents shout at city officials at a community meeting Thursday. The officials had come to discuss plans to house asylum-seekers at shuttered South Shore High School.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Times

In a chaotic meeting Thursday, South Shore residents demanded city officials house immigrants arriving in Chicago on the North Side rather than at a shuttered local school, saying the resources being spent to help them should instead be invested on the South Side.

Officials were prepared to deliver a presentation on the shelter plan at the meeting, which was held at South Shore International College Prep, but as it was set to begin, they were drowned out by audience members yelling, “We don’t care” and “We don’t want them here.”

Others yelled, “Send them back” and “Close the border.” Someone in the crowd held up a sign that read, “Build the wall 2024.”

Those in the audience who wanted to hear the city’s plan implored the crowd to settle down and be respectful. At one point, a person was taken into custody by police and then quickly released after tearing up the “build the wall” sign and getting into an altercation with the person who brought it.

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South Shore International College Prep is around the corner from the shuttered South Shore High School at 7627 S. Constance Ave., which officials plan to turn into a respite shelter for immigrants.

The school would serve as temporary housing for them while more permanent shelter is readied. Officials said 250 to 500 immigrants would be housed at the school at one time.

A man holds a sign reading Build the Wall 2024 at the community meeting.

A man holds a sign reading Build the Wall 2024 at the community meeting. Someone confronted the person holding the sign, tore it up and was briefly detained. Residents say they are concerned about security around the school once the asylum-seekers are in place.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Residents at the meeting said they were concerned about safety around the school once the immigrants were in place. “What are they going to do during the day when I’m at work?” asked one resident. Another asked, “Have they been background checked?” Some asked about trash buildup around the school and wanted to know if the migrants were vaccinated.

Tina Skahill, executive director of the Chicago Police Department’s Office of Constitutional Policing and Reform, said the department plans to have officers patrol the location around the clock and will increase camera surveillance.

Representatives from the mayor’s office, Office of Emergency Management and Communications and Department of Family and Support Services were also at the meeting.

Hours earlier at a news conference outside the shuttered high school, several residents who later attended the evening meeting demanded the city allocate more resources to the neighborhood before “dumping” migrants on their doorstep.

Terry Hardy from Ride For Change Ride for Hope Foundation, speaking Thursday afternoon outside the former South Shore High School.

Terry Hardy from Ride For Change Ride for Hope Foundation, speaking Thursday afternoon outside the former South Shore High School.

Natalie Garcia/For the Sun-Times

Residents said Black neighborhoods like South Shore could use the money being spent to house the immigrants to tackle chronic issues like homelessness and gun violence. They said asylum-seekers should instead be placed in more affluent areas of the city.

“We don’t want them in this building. You can house the migrants on the North Side — try Lincoln Park,” said Natasha Dunn, community organizer and South Shore resident. “They’ve got so many developments over there. People aren’t even living in those tall buildings. They have access to resources. On their main streets they have jobs. We have no jobs in our community, and we have been fighting for jobs for decades. So please tell me how is this fair?”

Rosita Chatonda, also a South Shore resident, said the city should hand over the building to the community so they can use it to improve the quality of life for young people in the area.

She said local community leaders had talked with previous mayoral administrations about their plans for the building, which included turning it into an art school for children, an incubator for entrepreneurs or a hydroponic grower.

“We have the right to have access to this building as it was promised, as a community hub,” Chatonda said. “This is why children out here are struggling with violence, because they have no support. We cannot give this building up. We empathize with those who’ve come here, but we have to look out for ourselves.”

A man walks past the outside entrance to the shuttered South Shore High School.

George Blakemore, who lives in South Shore, outside the shuttered South Shore High School. Residents say previous City Hall administrations had promised to use the school as a business incubator, hydroponic grow or an art school for children.

Natalie Garcia/For the Sun-Times

The residents said that if the asylum-seekers do move into the school, they hope Mayor-elect Brandon Johnson removes them from the building.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s office was also criticized by Woodlawn residents earlier this year when a shuttered school in that community was converted into a shelter for immigrants. A couple of people attempted to block the buses transporting the migrants to the school when it opened.

Terry Hardy, a graduate of South Shore High School, said he wouldn’t be surprised if residents once again attempt to block buses.

“That could happen,” Hardy said. “It’s not what we want, but if that’s what we need to do, we may be moving in that direction.”

About a week earlier, officials at a City Council committee meeting said the city was out of money, space and time to handle the flow of asylum-seekers into Chicago since August.

Many have had to spend several nights on the floors of police stations as they wait for shelter beds.

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 tips@suntimes.com.

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