Independent migrant shelter aims to house remaining residents, close by September

Todo Para Todos, an independent shelter in Pilsen, is set to close on Sept. 3, due to staffing and insurance-related reasons. They’re aiming to house 80 remaining residents by then.

SHARE Independent migrant shelter aims to house remaining residents, close by September
El albergue para migrantes Todo Para Todos en la cuadra 2000 al sur de Racine Avenue en Pilsen. Desde su apertura a mediados de mayo, el lugar ha ayudado a facilitar la tarea de la Municipalidad de albergar a nuevos inmigrantes. | Owen Ziliak/Archivos Sun-Times

The Todo Para Todos migrant shelter in the 2000 block of South Racine Avenue in Pilsen. Since opening in mid-May, the shelter has helped ease the city’s task of housing new immigrants.

Owen Ziliak/Sun-Times file

An independent migrant shelter in Pilsen — that’s been shouldering a load for the city by housing recent immigrants for months — is aiming to find permanent housing for its remaining residents in the next 10 days, then close.

The shelter, Todo Para Todos, first opened in May amid protests over migrant shelters opening in Chicago neighborhoods as a promise that Chicago was, in fact, a welcoming city. At its peak, it housed 220 people, 4% of the total in shelters then, but insurance issues have kept it from growing and now they are aiming to close September 3.

The group hopes to find housing for the remaining 80 residents by that deadline, said volunteer Anna DiStefano. Afterwards, volunteers would focus on providing meals and other necessities to immigrants at the nearby Near West police station and helping former shelter residents with necessities at their new housing arrangements.

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“There’s some silver linings,” said DiStefano, “but it is sad.”

The group has hinted at the possibility of closing for months, as the effort has been entirely supported by donations and volunteers and their pleas for help from the city haven’t been answered.

“We have been begging for any support,” DiStefano said. “But we just keep being told that they’re already at capacity.”

Then, on August 6, a letter from the building’s insurer threatened to cancel their policy for the buildings and others it insured for the building’s owner unless the shelter was vacated.

“The building owner has been fighting so hard for us,” DiStefano said. “But he can’t do things that will endanger his businesses,” which includes a Pilsen factory employing dozens.

The owner did not respond to requests for comment.

The group tried to find an alternative insurer but estimated the “cheapest option on the table” — a “steal” for several thousands of dollars a month — “wouldn’t be feasible” for the volunteer group.

About 275 people have gone through the shelter, DiStefano estimates. In that time, she estimates at least 65,000 hours of volunteer work have been put in and almost $14,000 has been donated through the group’s GoFundMe. The group has also received many donations outside of the GoFundMe.

Netza Roldan, executive director of the Binational Institute for Human Development, the fiscal agent for the shelter, said the September date was chosen because by then they estimated that they would run out of funds to provide residents with meals and security.

Although the shelter is volunteer run, they provide meals through a catering company and began hiring a private security firm in early July, according to their budget, due to theft and fighting.

He said the insurance company responsible for the building had given them some leeway to find an alternative insurer, but that they hadn’t found one they could afford without city assistance.

Roldan also noted that many of the volunteers worked in education and were returning to work in August and September.

The group applied for state funding in June but was ultimately denied.

Roldan, whose group has been helping dozens from the shelter with their asylum cases, said the shelter’s opening and closure was evidence of a lack of political will from the city to address the migrant crisis, which is expected to intensify as the 2024 Democratic Convention approaches.

The city said it had considered incorporating the shelter into the city’s own roster, but “it did not meet requirements in terms of size and other issues,” such as having a cafeteria space, showers and laundry.

The city said it had also connected the shelters with Catholic Charities to help with social services, but DiStefano called that a “very limited offer,” amounting to help for just three pregnant women, which still hasn’t been finalized.

Over 13,000 immigrants have arrived in Chicago since the end of August 2022, when Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and others began busing them to the city and others around the country. Around 6,500 remain in city shelters and almost 1,500 are waiting for space to open up in shelters at police stations and Chicago airports.

Michael Loria is a staff reporter at the Chicago Sun-Times via Report for America, a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster the paper’s coverage of communities on the South Side and West Side.

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