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Amundsen Park fieldhouse won't be used as shelter for Chicago migrants; will reopen Monday

City abandons plan for shelter at Amundsen Park on West Side
City abandons plan for shelter at Amundsen Park on West Side 02:17

CHICAGO (CBS) -- As construction on the first winterized tent camp for migrants gets underway in Chicago, the city is abandoning plans to house hundreds of asylum seekers in the fieldhouse of a West Side park.

Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29th) announced Wednesday night that the mayor's office has informed him it no longer plans to use the Amundsen Park fieldhouse as a migrant shelter, and will reopen the facility to the public on Monday.

Mayor Brandon Johnson's office confirmed Thursday morning that Amundsen Park is no longer needed as a potential migrant shelter, noting migrants already have been moved out of 10 of 21 Chicago police stations, a significant reduction in the number of asylum seekers sleeping at the city's airports, and a new initiative to house some migrants at 17 Chicago churches.

The city had announced in early October that it planned to use the Amundsen Park fieldhouse to provide temporary housing for asylum seekers, but within days of that announcement put those plans on hold while Mayor Brandon Johnson's office considered an alternative site nearby – a vacant building in the 1990 block of North Austin Boulevard.

For more than a month, the park has been operating with only one staffer, and the Chicago Park District had moved after-school events and other programs from Amundsen Park to Riis Park while preparing for possibly using Amundsen's fieldhouse as a shelter.

Last month, neighbors took their concerns to court, asking a judge to issue a temporary restraining order to prevent the city from turning the fieldhouse into a migrant shelter, but the judge denied their request since the city hadn't made a final decision on the plan.

Amundsen Park won't be used as Chicago migrant shelter 01:14

With that plan now cancelled, Taliaferro said Amundsen staff will start coming back on Monday, programming will return, and registration for winter programs will begin.

Taliaferro also said the potential use of the vacant building on Austin Boulevard as a migrant shelter is on hold.

"There has been a significant decrease in the number of migrants arriving and with the opportunity of other viable housing solutions, there appears to be no longer a need to house migrants at 1900 N. Austin in the immediate future," Taliaferro wrote in a letter to constituents in his ward.

According to Office of Emergency Management and Communications census data on new arrivals, there has been a significant drop-off in migrants awaiting placement in shelters - from 3,342 at the end of last month to 912 awaiting placement as of Thursday. 

West Side residents have spent weeks protesting the city's plan to use Amundsen Park as a migrant shelter, saying the plan was taking away valuable programming for local children and seniors.

Neighbors gathered at the park on Thursday to celebrate the reopening of the fieldhouse. Community members who had protested the plan to use the park as a migrant shelter said the fight was not about helping migrants, but about not taking away a valuable resource from existing West Side residents.

"You've got folks here that need your assistance, and if you're going to assist these [migrants], we have no problem with it, but do not forget about our people," said Linda Johnson, a member of the park's advisory council.

Residents said Thursday they were happy to have their park back - but they said it came at a cost.

"The city did a really terrible job handling this," said Donald Glover, president of the Amundsen Park Advisory Council.

Nearly two months were wasted, according to residents who live near - and in many cases rely on - Amundsen Park.

"Our kids have been missing out for the last 60 days!" said Mona Collins.

Alderman says Amundsen Park won't be used for migrant shelter 02:26

Since the Oct. 3 announcement that the park was being considered as a new migrant shelter, neighbors had not been pleased with all the programs having been moved to another site.

"We couldn't go in there and play bingo cards or anything," said Johnson.

The park was an inconvenient site for seniors like Johnson, who lives around the corner.

"We had so many seniors feel like they was in the pandemic all over again - because they couldn't get out," she said.

Meantime, construction is in its second day on a migrant tent camp in Brighton Park. 

Neighbors have been fighting the city's plan to house migrants in winterized military-grade tents at a vacant lot at 38th and California, and the city is expected to soon release results of an environmental review of toxic metal found in the soil. 

Cleanup efforts already have started, and the mayor has said no one will move in until the site is proven safe.

What makes Amundsen Park different? Why has the city called off a plan to house migrants there, while the Brighton Park site is going ahead despite community opposition.

Neighbors believe it is because the Amundsen Park fieldhouse was actively serving an important role in the community - with residents who weren't ready to give it up.

"It's right in the heart of a community that was functional," said Johnson.

"It was just a collaborative effort to make sure that this valuable resource stayed in the community," said Taliaferro.

The city said it will continue to evaluate additional shelter capacity and "will continue to provide updates as necessary."

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