Watch CBS News

Aldermen have questions with more migrants pouring in, city shelter system busting, funds needed

Aldermen say migrant surge has reached point of crisis
Aldermen say migrant surge has reached point of crisis 02:49

CHICAGO (CBS) --   "The surge is here" – that is the word from city leaders in charge of monitoring migrants who arrive in Chicago.

On Friday, two Chicago City Council committees – the Budget Committee and the Committee on Immigrant and Refugee Rights – discussed the challenges of migrants arriving in Chicago since last year. It was the first hearing of its kind since asylum seekers started arriving on buses in Chicago last September.

This was also the first meeting of the City Council Committee on Immigrant and Refugee Rights since 2021.

The committees discussed the status of the migrants that arrived and the costs of housing them.

"We've got to make hard decisions as a city, and we are looking to Council for support," said Brandie Knazze, Commissioner of the Chicago Department of Family and Support Services.

That plea for help comes after Knazze's department spent months trying to figure out where to house a mounting number of migrants. The puzzle is getting harder.

"Where do we go to next, and what do we open?" she said.

It is a question prompted by crisis. CBS 2 has reported on the buses coming from Texas and Colorado beginning back in September, Chicago has now welcomed 8,000 asylum seekers in eight months since.

A total of 75 to 100 new requests for a bed come in every day.

While many migrants are at different shelters across the city, the city's temporary shelter system is about to bust.  Some migrants have ended up living in crowded police stations just this week.

They were transferred to a field house in Rogers Park until they can be placed into shelters as well.

"This is not safe, and it's not the right thing to do; the way to treat people," said Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd).

No one disagrees, but no one seems to know what to do right now – even the people in charge.

"What we're asking this body for is to look into your communities and your wards and if there are large spaces that you can offer - that is what's preferred," Knazze told the aldermen.

City Council committee discusses asylum seeker arrivals, cost of aid 01:40

City leaders say they are expecting thousands more migrants to come by June. They told aldermen they do not know where the new arrivals will stay, because everything is essentially at capacity.

We learned that a 30-day stay rule began to be implemented in March.

"People are leaving the shelter system, but I want to be clear - the pace we are getting new arrivals, the outflow does not match the inflow," said Brandie Knazze, Commissioner of the Chicago Department of Family and Support Services. "So that's why there's a bottleneck."

CBS 2's Lauren Victory asked Ald. Jeanette Taylor (20th) what was going through her mind during the virtual meeting Friday.

"I was rolling my eyes the entire time, and I wanted to cuss," Taylor said.

That is because Taylor thinks these city requests for help are happening too late.

Chicago's biggest migrant shelter is under Taylor's jurisdiction. It opened at the old Wadsworth Elementary School in Woodlawn in February, and it now houses almost 500 people at a time.

Taylor questions why asylum seekers don't have a place to stay in every ward by now.

"We should've had these conversations already," she said. "I don't think we're taking seriously the lives we have on our hands and what's at stake."

CBS 2 previously reported that the City of Chicago coughed up $1 million just to update the bathrooms at Wadsworth. Converting even more buildings into shelters will cost money that that city doesn't have.

"To date, City Hall hasn't received any FEMA funds for 2023," said city Budget Director Susie Park.

No federal dollars have come in yet – even though the city is spending $20 million a month on this national issue.

Put another way by Ald. Ariel Reboyras (30th), "We average about $7,000 a month for each migrant seeking asylum."

Park told committee members that when federal and state reimbursements do come, Chicago could still be left with more than a $60 million gap.

Her proposal to the Council is to use 2021 surplus funds. Such funds are meant for an emergency – and no one was shy about calling the migrant crisis an emergency on Friday.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.