How other cities are responding to migrant crisis

Contractors set up the kitchen tent during a media tour in August of a shelter New York City has set up to house up to 1,000 migrants in the borough of Queens.

Associated Press

The city’s plan to unburden overcrowded police stations by moving migrants into mega-tent shelters is new to Chicago, but not to other U.S. cities also dealing with an influx of new arrivals.

New York City, which has received over 110,000 migrants since Southern governors began sending migrants north last year, opened a tent shelter Wednesday on an island between Manhattan and Queens.

That facility can hold around 2,000 people. It is being filled by hundreds of single adults brought there to make room for families in city shelters, according to reporting by the Daily News.

It’s New York’s second attempt at creating a tent city on the island. The first opened last October. By then, around 20,000 migrants had arrived, but that tent city was hardly used and closed in November.

Other cities have managed to keep migrants in shelters. 

In San Diego County — where it’s common for more people to cross the border in a single month than have arrived in Chicago in the last year — only around 1,000 migrants are in local shelters, said Catholic Charities of San Diego CEO Appaswamy ‘Vino’ Pajanor. 

Catholic Charities has run San Diego shelters since 2021, Pajanor said. He estimated around 98% move beyond San Diego, most headed to New York, New Jersey or other parts of California.

Catholic Charities covers the cost of transportation for a small number of those leaving the county, but only “if they have a final point of contact,” Pajanor said. Otherwise, “we’re sending them to be homeless.”

Denver, which has seen thousands more migrants than Chicago, also has around 1,000 people in its three city-run shelters, according to that city’s migrant shelter dashboard.

The rest have found housing — either on their own or through a state program similar to the one in place in Illinois — or moved on from the city.

Some of them have come to Chicago. Seven buses have arrived in Chicago from Denver, according to the Office of Emergency Management and Communications, but that program was quickly halted, said Victoria Aguilar, spokesperson for the Denver Department of Human Resources.

The city still buys tickets to Chicago for individual migrants if they express a wish to go. Aguilar did not answer questions about how many were sent to Chicago or whether they had to have a final point of contact to get a ticket.

Having heard from other migrants about Denver shelters and rental assistance programs, one Venezuelan staying at the Near West Side District police station in Chicago, who asked not to be identified, said he wished he could go there.

“Things here aren’t like what they said they would be,” said the 26-year-old, who has been at the station for a month. “None of this would be happening if we were able to get jobs.”

Michael Loria is a staff reporter at 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.

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