Low temperatures complicate Chicago’s struggles to house asylum seekers

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CHICAGO (AP) — A Temperatures are hovering Below freezing temperatures in Chicago, dozens of asylum seekers stay in the basement of a library until midnight Very cold Elevators are sweeping the country.

But beyond that, Chicago’s plans to provide immediate shelter for the growing number of migrants arriving in the nation’s third-largest city remain vague.

For more than a year, Chicago has been grappling with how to house new arrivals until shelters are free, using measures that city leaders insist are a temporary solution. Last week, city buses were at a standstill. Before that it was Police station lobbies And Airports. This temporary approach has overwhelmed volunteers, nonprofit groups and immigrants who worry about the lack of a long-term plan, especially during the city’s long winters.

“The city’s favorite word for everything is ‘temporary,'” said Vianney Marzullo, a volunteer who helped the migrants stay at O’Hare International Airport. “It’s their new choice of the word Band-Aid. Everything is temporary, temporary, temporary.”

Chicago, like New York and Denver, is struggling to deal with the crisis that began in 2022 when migrants began arriving in largely Democratic-led cities in the United States. Direction of Texas Governor Greg Abbott. Winter weather has it even further Complex efforts. Last week, New York received more than 170,000 immigrants. evacuation Huge tent camp before the storm. Mayors of major cities Asked Repeatedly for more federal aid.

Chicago’s response to its haphazard approach was highlighted by a heavy reliance on volunteers who spent more than a year providing assistance. medical careFood and donations.

City leaders say the situation is constantly changing, and there have been obstacles along the way.

Mayor Brandon Johnson floated the idea of ​​a heated tent, but construction was so-so canceled About the risks of pollutants at the former industrial site.

The city had set a 60-day maximum for shelter stays, but postponed the first batch of notifications until next week due to the weather. Meanwhile, the city has come under fire for conditions in its shelters death For a young boy, his family resided in one house.

The political battle also intensified and spread To the suburbs.

The bus operation run by Texas Governor Abbott was dropping off migrants at all times in various Chicago-area cities without coordination. When the city began fining bus companies and filing lawsuits, Abbott responded: Charter planes. Johnson had planned to hold a summit this week with suburban mayors to discuss the problem. Canceled due to weather. His office did not respond to a request for comment on Wednesday.

“This is an international crisis that requires federal intervention as local government supports this work. We were never designed to do this, but we are still standing here,” Johnson said last week before the storm.

Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker also wrote to Abbott last week asking that buses be suspended until temperatures rise and with many migrants arriving without winter coats or boots. But Abbott rejected that idea, saying the federal government needs to step up its efforts.

More than 33,000 migrants, most of them from Venezuela, have arrived in Chicago since 2022. Nearly 15,000 migrants are currently living in 28 shelters, and the city is constantly opening more. Many migrants have gone elsewhere or are living with family and friends in the area. Chicago, like other cities, offered Bus tickets out of town.

The city has ended its abusive use of police stations to house migrants, but O’Hare International Airport remains in use, where some asylum seekers stay for weeks at a time waiting for shelter. According to the city, there were more than 200 people on Wednesday.

Until the weather changed, the city was keeping the migrants on eight city buses that were running continuously and parked near the downtown freeway in an area called the “drop zone.”

There are six heated tents under construction nearby, which the city says will be used for reception and services, such as medical care. It is unclear whether it will also be used for housing.

Marilyn Gonzalez, 34, slept on buses last week with her husband and three children, ages 15, 16 and 18. The buses were crowded with diseases that spread quickly.

Gonzalez described the atmosphere on the ship as tense, with many worried about where they were going. She said it made her feel like a prisoner.

“The children are nervous. They say people are nervous, and they are really desperate. “Sometimes we have to sleep sitting up because there is no space to lie down.”

Outside the buses, many were doing activities, such as throwing a football, to keep warm.

The landing zone was cleared of people and vehicles on Monday, but by Wednesday morning, empty heating buses remained parked there again, a sign that the city intends to return to using them. The city’s Office of Emergency Management did not respond to questions Wednesday about the city’s plans when the weather warms.

Nearly 50 migrants were staying in the basement of the Harold Washington Library Center, the city’s main downtown location, during the cold snap, according to people staying there. The migrants, including those who came alone to avoid the cold, were living with others facing homelessness. According to the city’s census, there were 5 migrants at the library site on shelter lists. An Associated Press reporter was not allowed inside.

Angel Alberto Chorio, 30, slept there over the weekend, saying he was trying to figure out his next steps. He and a friend arrived from Venezuela last year. The promise of out-of-state work didn’t materialize so they recently returned to Chicago. With nowhere else to go, they came to the library.

He said Wednesday he was nervous about the shelter’s stay limits and wasn’t on a waiting list.

“We are not used to this. It is very cold, because it is already below zero,” he said, looking for the bright side. “At least they give one a chance to continue living.”

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