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Chicago churches begin taking in migrants who had been staying at police stations

Migrants pleased to move from Chicago Police stations to churches
Migrants pleased to move from Chicago Police stations to churches 02:24

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Chicago churches began taking in asylum seekers Wednesday – as part of the city's initiative to clear out Chicago Police stations amid the freezing temperatures.

The goal is to keep the migrants safe from the cold - and then get them ready to live on their own.

As CBS 2's Andrew Ramos reported, the smiles - and the sense of relief - were hard to miss Wednesday morning, as dozens of asylum seekers who for months called the Calumet (5th) District police station in Pullman home boarded buses to start a new chapter.

As many as 40 of them were transferred to churches largely on the South Side, where they will each get a bed to call their own - and receive accommodations they haven't had for months.

A total of 14 migrants who had been staying at the police station arrived Wednesday afternoon at Dunamis Life Church, at 2512 S. Oakley Ave. in the Heart of Chicago neighborhood.

They are arrived to find beds, and accommodations like showers and a kitchen.

This is part of Mayor Brandon Johnson's new "Unity Initiative," wherein the city will be partnering with 17 churches citywide to take in migrants - providing them shelter and resources for up to 60 days.

The goal is to transition the migrants to living on their own.

"Their biggest question was, 'Can we stay close so that we can, you know, find work, find places to live? Things like that,'" said Pastor John Zayas, senior pastor of Grace & Peace, "so we accommodated that."

Churches begin taking in migrants in Chicago 01:44

We got a peek inside the temporary shelter at Dunamis Life Church, where it could hold a maximum of 20 individuals at a time.

"Especially with the weather out here the last few days – it's been freezing cold," said Dunamis Life Church Senior Pastor Robert Belfort. "So they are enjoying a nice warm spot here, and knowing that they're going to get a nice hot meal a little bit later for dinner."  

The transition is being met with much relief from asylum seekers and the volunteer groups Who have been on the ground assisting in this crisis.

"We are going to help them with mental health, which is so needed as they trekked their journey across jungles - and went through all kinds of who knows what?" said Belfort.

Back at the Calumet District police station, volunteers like Denise Rojas and Nancy Johnson say the day is bittersweet.

They have been on the Front lines assisting in the migrant crisis since the beginning. They understand the obstacles, and hope the city is now better equipped to handle any future surges of arrivals.

"They should've never - these people, since they were welcomed, they should've never had to experience this - sleeping outside in these harsh conditions, and this harsh weather," said Rojas.

A total of four churches out of the 17 have now received asylum seekers.

Clearing out police stations, and those still left at O'Hare International Airport is going to be an ongoing effort that will continue in the next couple of days.

The 17 churches are going to be able accommodate around 300 migrants in total.

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