Residents of three South Side lakefront communities demanded information from city staff and elected officials Wednesday night about a soon-to-be reestablished migrant shelter off DuSable Lake Shore Drive.
The meeting at the Promontory restaurant days ahead of the shelter’s planned opening was the latest in a string of tense neighborhood forums in which residents have pushed back on hosting migrants in shuttered high schools and other city buildings.
The Lake Shore Hotel, located on the 4900 block of South Lake Shore Drive, hosted migrants between January and April, according to city staff. It will reopen within the week as one of many emergency facilities set up to relieve pressure on police stations and other ad hoc solutions to the mushrooming number of asylum-seekers from Venezuela and other parts of Central and South America.
About 200 people were on hand as residents questioned city officials about everything from whether new arrivals would be vaccinated and fingerprinted to how their children would be educated to the food they would eat to whether migrants were being housed in other parts of Chicago.
Other residents accused city representatives of being insensitive to their concerns about migrants who will be staying in the area, expressing fears that they would see an uptick in criminal activity, traffic and parking issues and the upkeep of the areas in which they were staying.
Adrienne Edwards, 48 said she and her neighbors had witnessed recent arrivals involved in illegal activity and asked who they should hold accountable for what they were seeing.
“There’s been a lot of experience with disturbances in our communities,” she said. “(Our) current experience is totally different from the bullet points you’ve given us.”
Deputy Chicago police chief Stephen Chung and newly seated Ald. Desmon Yancy, 5th, responded with a discussion of preceding incidents with migrants at the Lake Shore and what residents should do when they witness criminal activity, but Edwards was not satisfied with their answers.
“You all are just tragically tone deaf to everything you’re saying,” she said.
Much of the dissatisfaction hinged on the level of services the city was providing to current residents, particularly in predominantly Black areas of the city.
Dee Walker of East Hyde Park, asked about the predominantly white, wealthy neighborhood of Lincoln Park and whether that area was hosting migrants. “Are they being asked to give in the same way the South Side of Chicago is being asked to give?,” she said.
Others asked about how the city was assisting residents who already live in the city and particularly those who are homeless or who have mental health difficulties.
Owen Lawson, 54, said he’d passed homeless people sleeping under the Metra tracks on his way to the meeting. “Will they have access to these facilities?,” he asked.
Throughout the meeting, attendees applauded or shouted back at questions and comments they disagreed with. Yancy pleaded with the crowd for order multiple times.
“We cannot have a conversation if people are not respectful,” he said.
Gerry Bouey, 70, said he’d come to the meeting in hopes of having a conversation and had been dismayed at the level of tension in the room. “They’re just screaming at each other,” he said.
Lucy Ascoli, 81, asked about who would be running the shelter so she could contact them and help aid migrant families.
“We believe every community should support the asylum-seekers,” she said.
Ald. Andre Vazquez, 40th, who attended the meeting as a representative of Mayor Brandon Johnson’s migrant task force, told the crowd that any neighborhood was entitled to more of an advance warning than what south lakefront residents had received about the coming migrant shelter.
He also promised the crowd that the city was working toward reopening mental health clinics, increasing job opportunities for Black youth and a unified shelter system for any Chicagoan without a place to live.
Shortly before the end of the meeting, Yancy invited residents to participate in the upcoming city budget process and express their opinions about other elements of Chicago government.
Where to house the waves of migrants that have been arriving in Chicago since last year has been a contentious question at times.
Many migrants have spent their first days and weeks in Chicago sleeping on the floors of police headquarters, where they’ve been transferred between stations to accommodate events like the Lollapalooza music festival.
In other cases, the city has relocated migrants out of police stations after complaints alleged that a CPD officer had had sexual contact with at least one migrant at a West Side police station.
In Pilsen, a newly formed aid group running a shelter at 21st Street and Racine Avenue said they would shut down the shelter Sept. 3 due to issues with manpower and getting the Illinois Department of Human Services to recognize the operation as a shelter.
The people who were staying at the shelter will have to go back to sleeping on police station floors, volunteers told the Tribune.