Chicago out of money, space and time to handle migrant crisis, City Council told

With no money from the federal government for 2023 costs and a $53 million shortfall to meet the surge through June, Budget Director Susie Park said the City Council will soon be asked to approve a midyear budget amendment.

SHARE Chicago out of money, space and time to handle migrant crisis, City Council told
Migrants have been housed at the Chicago Police Department’s Central District, 1718 S. State St., for months. The Salvation Army moved most of them to a shelter on Monday, April 3, 2023.

Migrants have been housed at the Chicago Police Department’s Central District, 1718 S. State St., for months.

Emmanuel Camarillo/Sun-Times file

Chicago is out of money, space and time to handle the “humanitarian crisis” caused by asylum-seekers descending on Chicago, with 40,000 people waiting at the border and a surge that has yet to peak, top mayoral aides warned Friday.

For three hours, a joint City Council committee was told about a calamity so dire — with young families sleeping on police station floors — that decisions that might otherwise have been politically unthinkable need to be made.

“Knowing that we’re receiving over 100 people a day requesting shelter, we’re gonna need to make hard decisions as a team about are there spaces that we want to take offline — park district, schools,” said Family and Support Services Commissioner Brandie Knazze.

“We don’t see many more spaces that we can open up without your help and support. … If we don’t want to see people in police stations, we’re going to have to make hard decisions about where new shelters are gonna be open next. ... And it cannot just be Chicago. We have to look across the state for resettlement support,” said Knazze.

With “zero dollars” from the federal government for 2023 costs and a $53 million shortfall to meet the surge through June, Budget Director Susie Park said the City Council will soon be asked to approve a midyear budget amendment that applies portions of a nearly $700 million surplus to plug the gap.

“We’re in May, and we haven’t received any funding from FEMA,” Park said. “The need is great. A lot of requests are coming in. New York is probably asking for $1 billion. There is a lot of need.”

Forty-ninth Ward Ald. Maria Hadden acknowledged the “bad decisions” confronting alderpersons, all because the city, state and federal government were “not prepared” for the crisis.

“What does it mean to shut down this park for programming and move programming to another space? Those are conversations nobody wants to have that we’re gonna have to have,” Hadden said.

Twenty-third Ward Ald. Silvana Tabares demanded emergency meetings with state and federal officials to press the case for more resources so migrant families no longer need to sleep on the floors of police station lobbies.

“I’ve talked to the officers. I’ve talked to the migrants. Babies should not be sleeping on the cold floors of a police station. Mothers should not be feeding toddlers where criminals are being processed,” said Tabares, one of the police union’s staunchest City Council supporters.

“Our police stations are barely equipped with the resources and manpower for fighting crime, let alone having this,” she said.

Already, 7,400 asylum-seekers have arrived in Chicago in the last eight months, leading the city to open more than 20 alternate shelters with no more room at the inn.

In a letter to alderpersons this week, Mayor Lori Lightfoot warned that the problem is about to get infinitely worse.

“On May 11, 2023, Title 42 will expire, and some estimated 40,000 new arrivals may cross into the United States,” Lightfoot wrote, referring to the order that former President Donald Trump’s administration used to restrict migrants’ entry into the U.S., including for those seeking asylum at the southern border.

“Given that the current practice for organizations in border states is to purchase plane tickets and send new arrivals to Chicago and New York, we have been preparing for an even greater surge,” the mayor wrote.

Tabares noted that Chicago “could barely manage the homeless population” before busloads of migrants began arriving in August.

“We are past the tipping point, and I don’t see a plan from this mayor or the incoming one on what we’re gonna do,” Tabares said.

Third Ward Ald. Pat Dowell, chair of the Budget Committee, said there are about a dozen families with children sitting on floors at the Central District police station at 18th and State streets. Conditions are so crowded, it’s difficult for area residents to get to the front desk, she said.

“This is not safe. And it’s not the right thing to do [or] the way to treat people and to prohibit the policemen from doing the work that they need to do instead of being social workers,” Dowell said.


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