Migrants began moving into a former school-shelter in the Woodlawn neighborhood on Thursday, despite continued resistance from some nearby residents.
Even after several community meetings with representatives from Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s administration, Woodlawn residents took a strong stand against the migrant shelter set up inside the former Wadsworth Elementary School.
As shelter workers began arriving that afternoon, two male residents wearing yellow vests attempted to block a CTA bus carrying migrants from entering the school parking lot.
“We are not working with the city on this; They didn’t work with us,” Andre Smith shouted at police at the scene.
Smith and Luis Cardona said they are both Woodlawn residents and are upset that the city moved forward with the plan despite community opposition.
“We just want fairness,” said Smith, who refused to move and said he was prepared to be arrested. Smith is running for alderman of the 20th Ward against incumbent Janet Taylor.
Despite protests, the city began settling about 250 migrants into the school on Thursday, according to an email from Lightfoot’s Office of Community Engagement.
A city spokesman said about 100 men and women were taken to Wadsworth on Thursday afternoon. Individuals were transferred from other facilities due to capacity levels. More migrants are expected to visit the site.
As the day wore on, some refugees entered the school, guided by staff wearing light jackets. Some had a bag in their hands and some had luggage in their hands. Some went outside to see the neighborhood.
wadsworth shelter part of the city’s response For the thousands of migrants who have arrived in Chicago since August on more than 100 buses from Texas and Colorado. More than 5,000 migrants have arrived in the city and around 2,000 are under the city’s migrant shelter system.
In January, officials reported that shelters were at capacity, but the city is seeing an average of 10 new arrivals per day, according to the Department of Family and Support Services. The shelter was set to open last month but delayed After pushing and shoving from Woodlawn residents.
Residents of Woodlawn, who oppose turning the neighborhood’s shuttered Wadsworth Elementary School into temporary housing for migrants heading to Chicago, have said their already struggling community cannot cope with another influx of people in need.
“While I would love to help immigrants and everyone else, I would love to help myself first,” longtime Woodlawn resident Jean Clark said in early January.
Taylor said his office and residents were initially kept in the dark about the future of the school and the city’s plan to convert it into temporary housing. He said the neighborhood protests should not be seen as anti-immigrant sentiment, but rather residents feeling disrespected by the city’s plan to remodel a school the community had fought to keep open.
Residents also argued that the predominantly black neighborhood does not have the resources to ensure the well-being of immigrants because few people speak Spanish in the area and there are no immigrant organizations in the area that can help them settle in.
During a community meeting on Saturday, Brandi Nazz, commissioner of the Department of Family and Support Services, responded to concerns raised by residents. He said no resources were diverted from the community or other programs to help the migrants.
“This is a state of emergency,” she said. “We are trying to ensure that residents are treated with dignity and respect and that they have a safe place to stay while they figure out their next destination.”
Kerwin Spratt, a longtime resident who was driving by the school, said he did not agree with the city’s decision because of the “improper allocation of resources”.
“They’re going to provide three meals a day and a computer lab. A lot of schools here don’t have that,” Spratt said. “Senior homes – no one is giving them three meals a day.”
Jenny Newsome, who lives in the Kenneth Campbell Apartments for seniors across the street from Wadsworth, agreed with her neighbors and said the former school would not be a good home for migrants.
“You put them here without mercy, without empathy,” she said. “There are no shops around here where these people can really go. They don’t have anyone in the area who speaks Spanish.”
Taylor echoed her constituents’ concerns, saying, “The community has made it clear that they were not comfortable with (the shelter) because (city officials) could not answer any of their questions.”
“This is a dictatorship, not a democracy,” Taylor said in a phone interview.
Although she expects a response from her constituents, she also said her office will continue to have conversations with the community about how to deal with tensions and keep migrants engaged by collecting donations at local churches.
Taylor said, “While this was imposed on us, they always step up, show up and show up, and so I know that’s what my community will do.” “But politically, it’s a slap in the face.”
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In a statement, Taylor said his office will host a community meeting on February 16.
“Too often, the City of Chicago has pitted black and brown communities against each other,” she said in the statement. “Mayor Lightfoot’s administration has done just that through a lack of transparency and unwillingness to meet the demands of the community. I want my community to be respected and supported with resources after decades of racist disinvestment, and I want our city to be a true sanctuary for those seeking a better life. We can do both.
The shelter will have 24/7 security at all city-provided entrances, and the Chicago Police Department is implementing a community safety plan, which includes regular visits to the shelter.
The city said shelter residents will receive and sign a copy of the shelter’s rules and requirements. Rules include signing in and out when entering or exiting the shelter, observing an 11 p.m. curfew, not allowing visitors, and not using drugs or alcohol on the property.
Police Cmd. Roderick Watson of the 3rd District will host a discussion on Community Safety Friday at 10am.