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Tempers rise at South Side meeting on migrant housing

CHICAGO — South Side residents voiced their opinions during a meeting Wednesday night centered around a plan to re-open a Kenwood hotel as a migrant shelter.

According to city leadership, the Chicago Lake Shore Hotel will serve as a migrant shelter, housing up to 300 asylum-seekers, which could begin as early as Friday, Sept. 1.

5th Ward Alderman Desmon Yancy led the emergency community meeting, which lasted two hours and became quite heated as city leaders shared their plan with residents.

“Yelling and devolving into chaos isn’t going to get us anything,” Yancy said.

Yancy told the crowd he only learned of plans to utilize the shelter for migrant housing last week, after the decision had already been made. He wanted to allow community members to share their thoughts and concerns, which is why he called the meeting.

As city leaders attempted to answer questions, they were interrupted a handful of times by audience members shouting at them, or other attendees.

“I don’t want them there,” said one resident at the meeting. “Take them someplace else or send them back.”

Alderman Andre Vasquez with the 40th Ward, said he understood the frustrations and opinions of the community, but asked people to be respectful and allow speakers to ask their questions, so they could be answered.

“It is not illegal for someone to seek asylum when they come to this country,” Vasquez said.

According to city officials, the hotel was previously used as a shelter for migrants from January through April. Yancy said he has not been privy to the conversations between hotel ownership and city leadership during those discussions.

Some expressed frustrations over behavior they claim they observed during that time, including alleged loitering on neighboring properties and drug use, while at least one woman who said she lives nearby, had no idea there were migrants previously housed there.

Many who attended the meeting said they’re angered they were not involved in the decision-making process before the choice was made to use the hotel for this purpose.

“The thing should be that they should have the community out before they decide whether or not they’re going to move them somewhere, so to me, this is just a dog and pony show,” said Tyrone Muhammad, executive director of Ex-Cons for Community and Social Change. “Here we are again. It’s not that we don’t have a heart for the migrants. We just continue to see people go in front of the most disinvested communities.”

A significant number of people at the meeting spoke up and expressed their frustrations, or applauded in support, of those speaking about disinvestment, particularly in Black and Brown communities. Some shared they feel those communities’ needs continue to be ignored, along with the needs of unhoused residents living in the city.

“Yet we have violence, we have so much disinvestment in the Black community and no elected officials are really addressing those issues,” said Muhammad. “

City leaders in attendance recognized the concerns of audience members.

“I understand exactly the sentiment. What I am saying to you is, we are all in the same city,” Vasquez said. “So, we all know that the Black community hasn’t had the investment, hasn’t had that support. We have existing people that also need housing.”

Not all voiced opposition to the plans for the Chicago Lake Shore Hotel.

Some people at the meeting took the opportunity to ask questions about support for migrant families, including educational opportunities, and how the city was ensuring families were fed and provided needed items. Others encouraged the city to push more for federal support.

“We have to take care of the children,” one resident said. “These are children that have been traumatized enough.”

Arnie Stieber, who lives next to the Lake Shore Hotel, said he hopes to see the community come together as they navigate these next steps together. He said someone put fliers on his building encouraging people to protest at the meeting, so he came out to show his support.

“Be welcoming; you’re a sanctuary city,” Stieber said. “Don’t blame people who have lost their homes that have come here, don’t blame politicians.”

A representative from the Chicago Department of Family and Support Services fielded questions on curfew for residents and rules that are implemented by the shelters across the city.

Chicago Police Department leadership was also in attendance Wednesday and answered questions about security concerns and patrols near the shelter. According to CPD, like at the former Wadsworth Elementary School, now also used as a migrant shelter, the Chicago Lake Shore Hotel will have security contracted by the city, on site at all times.

According to the city, 6,678 migrants remain in city shelters as of August 30, with an additional 2,036 more awaiting placement, including 1,650 people currently sleeping in CPD districts and another 386 at O’Hare International Airport.

Thursday marks one year since the first bus carrying migrants arrived to the city, and to date, city leaders said more than 13,500 people have arrived on 217 busses. Two additional busses were expected to arrive Wednesday. The city said it expects the shelter will remain open for several months but did not provide a specific end-date

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