Chicago closes 4 migrant shelters amid lull in arrivals


A migrant camps out at a Chicago Police station while waiting for room at a Chicago city shelter to open up in 2023. After a lull in arrivals, the city has closed four shelters in the past week and a half, including in the Loop, North Lawndale and on the North Side.

Natalie Garcia/For the Sun-Times

The city has closed four migrant shelters in the past week and a half as the number of migrants arriving in the city continues to slow.

The shelters were located in the Loop, North Lawndale, Lake View and North Park and at their busiest held around 400 people in total. The biggest was the North Park Village Nature Center shelter center, which the city closed to be used as a polling place, according to a city statement.

The city did not immediately respond to requests for comment on whether any of the other shelters would reopen. Two of the shelters Harold Washington Library and the New Life Community Church in Lake View – have closed before and reopened.

Rev. Chad Bacon imagined the church would reopen if the city were to “get a bunch of buses leading up to the DNC.”

The families staying at Bacon’s church were moved either into apartments or into shelters while they wait for leases to start or apartments to open, the North Side pastor said.

“It was really emotional to say goodbye,” Bacon said. “Some had been with us for about 6 months so they had really developed a life here.”

The city did not immediately answer questions about whether migrants from the other shelters were moved into housing or to other shelters. Mayor Brandon Johnson’s shelter eviction is set to kick in March 16, after multiple delays.

The move to close the shelters comes as the number of migrants in shelters continues to fall, with 12,478 on Tuesday, according to the city, the lowest since late November.

At that time, more than 1,200 migrants were camped out at Chicago Police stations and nearly 300 at O’Hare Airport. On Tuesday, 16 migrants were waiting for room in shelters to open up at the city’s designated “landing zone” at 800 S. Desplaines St.

Several hundred migrants arrived since the beginning of February, compared to a couple thousand during the same 20-day period in January.

The lull in arrivals follows a decrease in the number of people crossing the U.S. southern border. Around 176,000 people crossed in January, according to Department of Homeland Security data, down from nearly 302,000 in December and the lowest since June.

Border crossings tend to be seasonal, with January and February consistently being the slowest months.

This year, the 42% decrease was driven primarily by an 80% drop in the number of Venezuelans crossing, said Colleen Putzel-Kavanaugh, an analyst with the Migration Policy Institute, which could be the result of harsh weather conditions making the Darien Gap even more treacherous to cross, increased Mexican immigration enforcement and other factors.

“The movement of people is still happening, but there may just be more barriers for people getting here,” Putzel-Kavanaugh said.

The lull may also be driven by the record-setting spike in December. Talks in Congress around possible changes to border policy may have driven that increase, Putzel-Kavanaugh said. “There was this sense that it could soon be an environment where it would be harder to cross.”

Typically crossings begin increasing again in March.

“Big decreases often don’t last and are often followed by an increase,” she said. “We all wish we had some sort of crystal ball, but there’s always ebbs and flows.”

Michael Loria is a staff reporter for the Chicago Sun-Times via Report for America, a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster the paper’s coverage of communities on the South Side and West Side.