Watch CBS News

Chicago puts plans for Morgan Park migrant tent camp on back burner

Morgan Park migrant tent camp on hold
Morgan Park migrant tent camp on hold 00:22

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Nearly one week after Gov. JB Pritzker halted Chicago's plans to build a tent camp for migrants in Brighton Park, the city is putting its backup plan for a tent camp in Morgan Park on the back burner for now.

Last Tuesday, Pritzker announced the state would no longer be moving forward with plans to help the city build a winterized tent camp at 38th and California, saying there were too many environmental concerns at the proposed site to proceed.

Construction on tents at that site had already begun before the governor scrapped that plan. One day later, sources said the city would begin moving those tents to a second possible location for a migrant tent camp in Morgan Park, a former Jewel store and parking lot at 115th and Halsted streets.

On Monday, the Mayor Brandon Johnson and Ald. Ronnie Mosley (21st) confirmed that backup plan in Morgan Park is now on hold.

"There are no immediate plans for 115th and Halsted, but in the event that we move forward together in addressing this humanitarian crisis with a base camp at the site, we remain committed to our collaboration and shared plans for capital improvements, community development and support for housing, health and safety for residents of the 21st Ward," Johnson and Mosley said in a joint statement. "With dedicated efforts and an open line of communication, the 21st Ward will be better through and beyond our city's new arrivals mission."

Last month, the City Council approved a plan to purchase that site for $1 to set up a tent camp for up to 1,400 migrants. As part of the agreement, any migrant tent camp built there would have to come down by Oct. 31, 2024, to make way for the Morgan Park Commons, a housing and retail development project that was in the works before the migrant crisis began. The State of Illinois has already invested $15 million into Morgan Park Commons.

The City Council in November agreed to Mayor Brandon Johnson's plan to purchase the lot for a migrant tent camp only after the mayor agreed to that compromise with Mosley, who had previously opposed the plan. Most of Mosley's City Council colleagues appeared set to vote down the project before he and Johnson reached the deal to set an end date for the migrant camp in Morgan Park.

With the Morgan Park site on hold and the Brighton Park site cancelled altogether, for now it appears the city won't be building any tent camps for migrants, relying instead strictly on brick-and-mortar shelters.

Earlier this month, city officials said the Brighton Park site was safe to house as many as 2,000 migrants, after releasing an environmental review that prompted remediation work on the site, including removal of contaminated soil. A nearly 800-page report by contractor Terracon Consultants revealed high levels of mercury and other toxic chemicals were found at the site and were being removed, and the city deemed the site safe to house migrants.

But Pritzker canceled construction of the Brighton Park site – which was to have been funded by the state – after he said an Illinois Environmental Protection Agency review of the city's report found "insufficient soil sampling and remediation."

Environmental tests also were underway at the Morgan Park site, but no results have been released. Ald. Ronnie Mosley has said the site might have once been home to a dry cleaners, and "depending on how that cleaners got rid of their materials, that could be the only thing that they would foresee" as a possible environmental concern.

Meantime, the city has seen a significant drop in the number of migrants sleeping at Chicago police stations in recent weeks; from a peak of 3,338 migrants staying at police stations in mid-October, to only 461 as of Monday morning. As of Monday, migrants have been cleared from 15 of the 21 police stations where they had been staying.

City officials said 13,791 asylum seekers were staying at one of 26 active city-run shelters as of Monday, with another 199 staying at O'Hare International Airport while they wait for space in a shelter.

Pritzker's office has said it is expediting plans to turn a former CVS pharmacy in Little Village into a 200-bed migrant shelter. The state is also working with the Chicago Archdiocese to explore other shelter options.

Johnson last month also unveiled a plan for 17 Chicago churches to provide shelter and other services for asylum seekers. Each church will take in 20 migrants and help connect them with social services and other resources to get them on the path to finding jobs and permanent homes. 

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.