Gage Park field house to serve as respite center for hundreds of migrant men

Ald. Ray Lopez (15th) said he volunteered the field house —possibly through Dec. 31 — because “stagnation has to come to an end.”

SHARE Gage Park field house to serve as respite center for hundreds of migrant men
The Gage Park fieldhouse, 2411 W. 55th St., which Ald. Ray Lopez (15th) offered as a respite center for up to 300 single migrant men now forced to sleep on police station floors.

The Gage Park fieldhouse, 2411 W. 55th St., which Ald. Ray Lopez (15th) offered as a respite center for up to 300 single migrant men now forced to sleep on police station floors.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Chicago Sun-Times

A Chicago Park District field house in the Southwest Side’s Gage Park neighborhood will be turned into a migrant respite center, possibly through the end of the year, for up to 300 single men now left to sleep on police station floors.

Last month, Ald. Ray Lopez (15th) delayed, then opposed the city’s plan to use $51 million in surplus funds to slap a Band-Aid on Chicago’s migrant crisis.

At the time, Lopez accused the city of “playing Whack-a-Mole” with the migrant crisis and said he refused to “keep giving money down this rabbit hole” without a long-term solution.

La Voz Sidebar

Lea este artículo en español en La Voz Chicago, la sección bilingüe del Sun-Times.
la-voz-cover-photo-2.png

But that didn’t stop Lopez from volunteering the Gage Park field house, at 2411 W. 55th Street. With spring camps ended and summer camps “proactively cut off” to minimize the impact, Lopez said there are “less than 60” kids registered for summer camps, sports and other recreational programs who will need to make the move to other locations.

Most are “more than happy to transfer” to the park district’s newly opened headquarters at 48th and Western, Lopez said.

Nearly 400 migrants, most of them single men, are still sleeping on the floors of Chicago police stations.

Lopez said he volunteered his local field house because that “stagnation has to come to an end.”

He offered to use the field house to house single male migrants if their security and health needs are met and if their food and clothing is provided by the city, not “solely reliant on the generosity of others.”

Assured those conditions will be met, Lopez said Friday he is preparing to welcome “over 300 migrants now rotating across police districts” as early as July 1.

“As other states continue to send migrants and asylum seekers here to the city of Chicago, we may need to keep this open, at least for the remainder of the year. What I don’t want is ... to open up, then have to shut it down in a few months and put the entire long-term solution into chaos because we didn’t think in a long-term manner,” Lopez told the Sun-Times.

Ald. Ray Lopez (15th) speaks at a Friday news conference about using the Gage Park fieldhouse as a respite center for up to 300 single migrant men. 

Ald. Ray Lopez (15th) speaks at a Friday news conference about using the Gage Park field house as a respite center for up to 300 single migrant men.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Chicago Sun-Times

“Having individuals in police stations is not an acceptable short-term solution. Having individuals bounce around hotels and homeless shelters is not an acceptable solution. I believe what I’ve presented to the mayor … is the first concrete short-term solution that we don’t have to worry about changing or falling apart. It allows us to have some breathing room both for our officers but also for those who are here so we can process them.”

Lopez said he does not anticipate the kind of, “What about us?” opposition that has been generated in other neighborhoods.

He said new lighting, portable toilets and hand-washing facilities will be moved in to make certain local residents can make full use of the “rest of the park campus throughout the summer.” And improvements made inside the Gage Park field house — to showers, locker rooms and the dining hall — will last “long after the crisis subsides,” he said.

“We are showing the rest of the city that we can be critical but still be helpful to addressing this crisis,” Lopez said.

Rich Guidice, Mayor Brandon Johnson’s chief of staff, thanked Lopez for “stepping up to help” with the burgeoning migrant crisis.

“We’re gonna need a lot of people to step up and help us out with that. One of our main objectives is to get as many migrants out of the police stations as quickly as possible. As of today, we’re a little bit under 400, but it fluctuates. We got four buses four days in a row now,” Guidice said.

An interior shot of the Gage Park fieldhouse, 2411 W. 55th St., on Friday.

An interior shot of the Gage Park field house at 2411 W. 55th St., taken Friday.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Chicago Sun-Times

“As long as we continue to get buses from the border, we’re gonna continue to be challenged throughout the city in placing these people in safe environments,” Guidice said. “That’s what we’re up against. [When] those buses stop coming, then we can stop looking for new locations, and hopefully, wind this thing down. But as of right now, we’re full-speed ahead in looking to identify spaces and keeping these people safe.”

Throughout the migrant crisis, the city has taken steps to separate single men from families with children to avoid putting women and children in danger.

That’s why families with children were forced to make the 25-mile trip this week from the High Ridge YMCA in the Far North Side’s West Ridge community to Daley College on the Southwest Side.

Asked whether the Gage Park field house would continue to house migrants through Dec. 31, Guidice said, “I wouldn’t take that off the table. We still have 4,800 people we’re taking care of. We want to hang onto it as long as we can.”

Erika Villegas, who is part of a network of Chicago residents who have assisted immigrants at police stations, said the number of people sleeping there is starting to decline. Many are adults, though some families have arrived in recent days. At least one location, the Gresham District, hasn’t had any immigrants sleeping on its floors all week.

“We consider that a win,” Villegas said. “There are still unhoused individuals, and we continue to support them.”

Still, the move from police stations to city-run makeshift shelters has presented other challenges.

Volunteers who had established trust with many families are no longer allowed to visit them at the city-run shelters, Villegas said. But the volunteers are still getting messages from families asking for help to access better food or warmer clothes while staying at the shelters.

“We do not want to see our families in pain, hurting, so it’s hard to stop assisting and helping when we know that there is still a lack of assistance from the city itself,” Villegas said. “As much as they have done, unfortunately, they need to do more.”

Contributing: Elvia Malagón


The Latest
Mitch Trubisky had to wait his turn behind Mike Glennon in 2017; Justin Fields had to wait his turn behind Andy Dalton in 2021. But the Bears aren’t playing any apprenticeship games with Williams, who figures to benefit from that approach, even with likely early missteps.
During a two-minute drill Saturday, Williams threw a pass that was batted in the air — and back into his arms.
A sedan didn’t stop at a traffic signal and crashed into the bus, which then hit a building, police said.