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South Shore residents decry plans to use shuttered school as migrant 'respite center'

Outrage over plan to turn shuttered South Shore school into migrant 'respite center'
Outrage over plan to turn shuttered South Shore school into migrant 'respite center' 02:54

CHICAGO (CBS) – The issue of the migrant crisis boiled over Thursday night in Chicago, as the city discussed plans to board more migrants at a shuttered school in the South Shore neighborhood.

As CBS 2's Marissa Perlman reported, an emotional – and at times intense – community meeting was held on the issue.

The event was packed, and the truth is – nobody learned too much about the city's plan for the respite stop for migrants at the old South Shore High School, 7626 S. Constance Ave.

That is because leaders could not get a word in edgewise.

Neighbors overwhelmingly say they do not support the space in their community going to supporting migrants. Community members said the city has put very little thought into the move, calling it an "intrusion into daily life" in South Shore.

"How could you do that without consulting us?" a woman said.

"I'm outraged, and I don't understand why our community was chosen," another woman said.

Discussions grew heated over respite center for migrants in South Shore 01:36

Passionate South Shore neighbors would not let city leaders share their plans to turn the former high school site into what they call a "respite" center.

"I think what's really important is that we establish this is a humanitarian crisis," said city Chief Engagement Officer Nubia Willman.

But neither neighbors nor Ald. Michelle Harris (8th) wanted to hear that.

"While this may constitute an emergency for the city of Chicago, it does not constitute an emergency for the South Shore community," Harris said.

The meeting was heated, and sometimes disruptive.

Representatives from the Mayor's office, the Chicago Police Department, and the Department of Public Health were all on a panel. They say the space will be become a temporary holding space - housing between 250 and 500 people at one time before they get a shelter assignment.

City officials called it a "place to decompress" where people can have a hot shower and a nice meal.

Right now, the city says there are more than 300 people waiting for shelter space staying on police station floors.

The system of bussing migrants into sanctuary cities like Chicago started last August. The school has been vacant since 2014.

In 2020, the Police Department moved in to operate a temporary professional development center at the old school. But they now will move out.

But Chicago Police Deputy Director Tina Skahill said the respite center will have a 24/7 police presence.

The neighborhood is now worried about crime, trash, and even property values nearby – and say the resources the city is spending to help migrants should instead go back into the community. They say the community is one that has seen disinvestment for decades.

"I am so concerned about this, I have for the last two days seriously been considering selling my house," a woman said.

We know the old South Shore High School is one of three possible respite sites. Is it a done deal?

The city will not say for sure, or provide a timeline for when migrants would be moving in.

We did reach out to Mayor-elect Brandon Johnson's office for a comment. There was no answer late Thursday, but we will keep pressing.

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