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Migrant arrivals have slowed in Chicago, but new shelter opens as need continues

City, archdiocese partner to open new migrant shelter in Chicago
City, archdiocese partner to open new migrant shelter in Chicago 03:27

CHICAGO (CBS) -- As the arrivals of asylum seekers has slowed down in recent months in Chicago, the city has shut down some of imts shelters.

But while the number of arrivals has slowed, it has not stopped. The city has received more than 43,000 asylum seekers since August 2022.

At the beginning of 2024, there were 28 city shelters housing migrants. Now, that number is down to 17.

Now, a shelter at St. Bartholomew Church, 3601 N. Lavergne Ave. in the Portage Park neighborhood, is helping migrants who have newly arrived at the city's landing zone.

"With children sleeping on the street, and outside of police stations, and so forth, it was just unconscionable that we would, in this time in history, we would be experiencing that," said Fr. Michael O'Connell of Our Lady of the Rosary Parish.

The St. Bartholomew shelter is a collaboration between the City of Chicago and the Archdiocese of Chicago – which is lending the St. Bartholomew buildings at no cost to the city. Also involved in the collaboration are Cook County, and the Chicago-based Zakat Foundation – an organization that provides emergency relief.

"Our contract is six months, but going to be renewed as long as the need is there," said Halil Demir, executive director of the Zakat Foundation.

As of Tuesday night, around 40 migrants – all families – were staying at the church's empty convent. Once that space is filled, families who arrive at the city's landing zone will move to the church's school – which can accommodate 350 people.

The opening ceremony for the space was held Tuesday, but CBS 2 is told renovations need to be completed before it can receive families.

"It is almost ready. We're almost there," said Ald. Ruth Cruz (30th). "There's small things that need to be done, but we're like at 90% there."

Right now, the surge in newly-arrived migrants has slowed – with only about 13 people currently waiting for shelter placement. Mayor Brandon Johnson, who attended the event, said the city will continue welcoming asylum seekers.

"The big issue that we have right now is that we require real substantive immigration reform policy, of which the Republican Party that's led by a convict is refusing to act," Johnson said. "That's where we are."

President Joe Biden's new executive order is aimed at slowing the number of asylum seekers at the Mexican border. But volunteers who have worked with the migrant community say there is still a shelter and housing need in the city.

"If they can't work, it's really hard to leave shelter - because there's not enough," said volunteer Annie Gomberg. "There's not a way to make enough money to work and support yourself and to pay rent."

Another concern for the volunteers is that many migrants who are facing eviction at city shelters could end up back at the city's landing zone – creating a continued need for shelters like the one at St. Bartholomew.

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