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Chicago uses warming buses for migrants for winter storm

Migrants sleep on warming buses as winter storm arrives
Migrants sleep on warming buses as winter storm arrives 02:39

CHICAGO (CBS) – As Chicago prepared for its first winter storm of the season Monday night, hundreds of migrants will wait out the storm inside Chicago Transit Authority buses downtown.

On Monday afternoon, there were eight articulated, or accordion-style, buses at the city's landing zone, near Des Plaines and Polk streets in the West Loop. The buses will serve as warming buses for asylum seekers to stay in while they wait for a temporary housing solution.

The number of buses used has increased in the past few days.

Last Friday, there were only 151 people stationed at the landing zone. On Monday, there were 537, according to city data.

The increase came as Mayor Brandon Johnson has repeatedly asked the federal government for help with more funding and more room, as Chicago is nearing capacity at its shelters.

Right next to the landing zone, the state was working to construct its intake center. That included six heated tents meant not for housing but to provide placement and other services to migrants as they arrive.

The city told CBS 2 that at the landing zone, workers are able to address migrants' most immediate needs until there is room for them to move to a more secure shelter situation. That includes giving them blankets and warm clothing, meals and necessary medical care. They've focused on families first. 

Last weekend alone, the city received 40 buses with migrants coming from the suburbs and nine that came directly to Chicago.

At the landing zone, some migrants have been staying on the CTA warming buses for days.

Migrant father, son stay on Chicago warming bus ahead of winter storm 02:07

A father who traveled from Venezuela to Chicago said he and his 13-year-old son have been on a CTA bus for four days. When asked what he needed, he said food and answers. He had no idea when the city might relocate them to a more secure shelter space.

Others, like Cesar, just arrived by train. Cesar left his home country of Venezuela on Nov. 28 – crossing several countries to get to the U.S.

He first arrived in the Chicago suburbs before taking a train tot the city.

Cesar is just one of the migrants now being dropped off by so-called rogue buses – which defy city protocols on arrivals. Last month, the Chicago City Council approved tougher penalties for bus companies that drop off migrants without notice, or outside the city's designated landing zone.

Chicago to use warming buses for migrants during impending winter storm 01:51

On Monday, the city moved forward with 95 separate cases filed against multiple bus companies that violated the city's "rogue bus" ordinance. The attorney for a bus company – Wynne Transportation – told CBS 2 the company is suing the city in federal court, claiming the ordinance violates the U.S. Constitution and Illinois State Constitution.

"These passengers especially expressed a desire to travel to the city of Chicago, and so Wynne is just trying to transport these passengers to the place where they want to go," said Michael Kozlowski, an attorney representing Wynne Transportation LLC.

But in Chicago, space is running out in shelters where some have gotten 60-day notices to vacate, said Ald. Andre Vasquez (40th).

"If you keep funneling people back to that landing location, what is that going to look like?" Vasquez said. "And ultimately, if people can't find a place to live in over 60 days - and that lands during the winter in Chicago - you're saying that that they're going to end up on the street."

The City of Chicago issued this statement:

"As migrants arrive, we are able to provide immediate needs. With our continued partnership with the State on intake center opening soon, we are providing warming buses for new arrivals to utilize as they wait for shelter beds to become available. At this time the priority for shelter placement are families with children. If Chicago is not their final destination, the State is funding New Life Centers and Catholic Charities to support at the landing zone to identify people that are seeking to reconnect with family or sponsors via the outmigration process."

We are still waiting to hear back from the city on the federal lawsuit it is now filing.

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