By Eric Cox
CHICAGO (Reuters) – Chicago is grappling with local backlash against moving homeless migrants into a new government-run tent encampment as temperatures drop and more migrants continue to arrive.
Hundreds of migrants are still sleeping on floors or in tents outside city police stations. Some who remained this week huddled near tents wearing parkas, knit hats and even ski goggles to cope with the cold weather and falling snow.
At the same time, dozens of protesters have been gathering daily near a construction site where one of two new shelters is being built in Chicago’s Brighton Park neighborhood. The shelters, funded by the state of Illinois and expected to open as soon as mid-December, will house up to 2,200 asylum seekers and cost $65 million to build.
Community members in Brighton Park are suing the city to try to stop construction, saying it violates Chicago zoning laws.
“These people are just getting off the bus and everything’s given to them,” said one of the demonstrators, longtime resident Ricardo Palacios. “As a taxpayer, I don’t think that’s right.”
For several months, thousands of migrants with nowhere to go have been sleeping at Chicago police stations and O’Hare International Airport, but the city and churches have stepped up efforts to move migrants into shelters.
Around 1,000 asylum seekers remain at police stations, down from 4,000 three weeks ago, according to city figures.
Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson, a Democrat who took office in May, has struggled to house arriving migrants, including hundreds bused up each week by the Republican-led border state of Texas after crossing the U.S.-Mexico border. Many of those arriving come from Venezuela and lack family and friends to help them.
The housing issue has become more urgent in recent weeks as the city’s frigid winter season – when temperatures routinely drop below freezing and can sometimes fall dangerously low – draws closer and snow has started to fall.
On Tuesday, Johnson, who is Black, criticized Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s busing effort during a press conference, calling it “right-wing extremism” that was intentionally targeting cities “led by people of color.”
“Their whole motivation is to create disruption and chaos,” said Johnson, who has also sought more federal funding to deal with the issue.
Since April 2022, Texas has bused more than 66,000 migrants to six Democratic-run cities, four of which have Black mayors – Chicago, New York, Los Angeles and Washington.
Abbott spokesperson Renae Eze called Johnson’s remarks “falsehoods and outright lies” and questioned his commitment to receiving migrants.
“In May, Mayor Johnson welcomed migrants to Chicago, saying the city has ‘enough room’ for them,” Eze said in a statement. “With millions of residents, Chicago is only dealing with a fraction of what our small border communities deal with on a day-to-day basis.”
(Reporting by Eric Cox in Chicago; Writing by Ted Hesson; Editing by Mary Milliken and Sandra Maler)