Chicago Begins Evicting Migrants From Shelters, Citing Strain on Resources

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Chicago officials on Sunday began evicting some migrants from shelters, joining other cities that have made similar moves to ease pressure on overstretched resources.

The process is starting gradually. Out of the nearly 11,000 migrants living in 23 homeless shelters in Chicago, according to the Office of Emergency Management and Communications, a fraction — 34 single adults — were required to leave on Sunday.

Many people will be eligible for exemptions. They will be determined on a case-by-case basis, city officials said, for pregnant women, people with certain medical issues and migrants who are already in the process of securing housing. Families with children can receive renewable 30-day extensions.

But officials said that more than 2,000 people would be evicted by the end of April. And many families with children may be forced to exit the shelter network altogether by the summer.

Backed by an army of volunteers, Chicago and other cities have found shelter for migrants, enrolled their children in schools, provided food assistance and held workshops to help them fill out paperwork to apply for work permits.

But housing migrants has been draining city coffers — Chicago has received more than 37,000 migrants since August 2022. Overall, in the past year, hundreds of thousands of migrants have ended up in large cities.

The evictions are placing even more pressure on the volunteers as they scramble to fill the void. Many of them said they had grave concerns about the impact, particularly when they begin to apply to families.

“There is a lot of fear there will be people in the streets,” said Annie Gomberg, whose volunteer group, People’s Shelter Response, has been assisting migrant families in Chicago.

For families in the shelters, there was confusion and worry as news spread of the policy.

A Venezuelan migrant named Nelly, who declined to share her last name for fear of retribution, said that her family’s allotted time in the shelter would expire on March 19. “The social worker said that there was no extension order, and we are waiting for the actual day to arrive to find out what happens,” she said.

A mother of two special-needs children, ages 5 and 6, and a former dental hygienist in her home country, she said that neither she nor her husband had found jobs because they still lacked work permits. “It’s an anguishing situation,” she said, “because we can’t make money.”

For months, Mayor Brandon Johnson’s administration had delayed enforcing a 60-day limit on shelter stays amid frigid temperatures and concerns over the repercussions of evicting people who might have nowhere to go.

A progressive Democrat who took office last year, the mayor has repeatedly struck a welcoming tone toward migrants from Central and South America, while criticizing Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas for orchestrating charter buses that have brought tens of thousands of migrants to Chicago.

But citing limited city services, Mr. Johnson decided to begin enforcing the limit. And Chicago is not alone.

Denver, which has received about 40,000 migrants, began to clear hotels housing migrants in February. That month, it reinstated time limits for city-provided hotels after pausing evictions in November because of the cold. Stays are up to 14 days for adults without children and 42 days for families.

The number of arrivals has declined since late last year, as they have in Chicago. So far this month, Denver has received 11 charter buses from the border, compared with seven in February — substantially fewer than in December, when 144 buses unloaded migrants. Still, the large number of newcomers has overwhelmed the city.

“What we have been doing actively is working with nonprofits day and night to help families secure housing,” said Jon Ewing, a spokesman for Denver Human Services.

“But we don’t have resources to do this forever, and the nonprofits don’t either,” he said. “It’s very, very important to keep the numbers down.”

Hundreds of local families have been hosting migrants, and more are expected to do so in the coming months.

In New York, where the migrant shelter population stands at about 65,000, the city will begin limiting the amount of time adult migrants can remain in shelters to 30 days.

Migrants would be allowed to stay longer if they met certain criteria. The new cap on shelter stays represents a major shift in the city’s right-to-shelter policy, and it is a culmination of months of negotiations in state court.

The city had already imposed limits on how long migrants could stay in several shelters, evicting many and requiring them to reapply if they still wanted a bed, which is also part of the new policy in Chicago.

Families still have 60 days before they have to leave shelters, and can ask to be readmitted under the new rules. The city has said that 80 percent of evicted adults end up giving up and voluntarily not trying to remain in the shelter system.

In all the cities, the biggest impediment to the migrants achieving self-sufficiency has been their inability to secure steady jobs without employment authorization, a permit that gives them the legal right to work in the United States. Migrants who have crossed the border illegally and seek asylum are eligible for employment authorization but can only apply for the benefit 150 days after they have filed their asylum claim in immigration court.

Many migrants are finding odd jobs, but they have been unable to save enough money to afford skyrocketing rents and support their families in expensive cities, creating a burden on social services. The cities’ mayors, struggling with busted budgets, have pleaded for assistance from the federal government.

In a statement on Friday, Mayor Johnson said his city “is committed to compassion. By encouraging resettlement while also providing case-specific extensions with a focus on health and safety, we are advancing a pathway to stability and self-sufficiency.”

Although migrants in Chicago who are evicted will have the option of returning to the city’s so-called landing zone, an intake center, to apply for admission to a different facility, the potential to be repeatedly uprooted is problematic, especially for families with children in school.

“There is so much uncertainty and concern,” said Erika Villegas, a volunteer who has helped families secure apartments. “The families are wondering, ‘When is it going to be me next?’”

Julie Bosman and Andy Newman contributed reporting.



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