After a three-month journey from South America, a Venezuelan family arrived in Chicago in December to discover a cramped city. Finding a place for the whole family to stay was much more challenging, even though Kevin had arrived first and found a spare bed before his partner Legna and their two children crossed the border into Texas. Days passed with them dozing off in various Chicago locations, including police stations, shelter hallways, and waiting rooms.
“I thought they were going to help my family seek shelter,” Kevin said, asking that his family’s full names not be made public. It was more convoluted than that. Finding a place for everyone to stay was more challenging. Two Venezuelan immigrant children’s Spider-Man backpacks are strewn about the floor of Kristin Huzar’s Evanston apartment.
Chicago is struggling to provide shelters for the growing number of asylum seekers. Controversy has surrounded the use of spare rooms as emergency shelters. There is a severe lack of available beds, so organisations and volunteers have been working around the clock to help newcomers like Kevin and his family.
The city’s Department of Family and Support Services provides funding and support for more than 3,000 beds across 50 different facilities, as stated on their website. Despite Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s request for $53.5 million, the state is only providing Chicago with $20 million to provide shelter, transportation, basic health care, food, and first aid to new arrivals.
Brandie Knazze, the city’s commissioner of the Department of Family and Support Services, informed officials in an email sent on November 5 that the shelters were at capacity, roughly two months after the buses had arrived. She spoke about the “urgent” need for housing at a community meeting in January, noting that some people were sleeping in police stations while waiting for an emergency shelter bed.
Prior to its closure, the James Wadsworth Elementary School in Woodlawn was estimated by city officials to have enough space to temporarily house around 250 adult males and females. About a dozen new residents of Little Village have been helped by the Pilsen Food Pantry, but director Evelyn Figueroa says that’s just a “drop in the bucket.”
The demand “far exceeds what the Woodlawn facility can provide,” Figueroa said. On February 19, Kristin Huzar’s camera caught an asylum seeker, her partner, and their two children in one of the bedrooms of their Evanston home.
A home that is “overflowing with love.”
More than 5,140 immigrants, many of whom were brought to Chicago via chartered buses from Texas and Colorado, have arrived in the city since August. City officials reported at a community meeting in February that there were approximately 2,100 people residing in the emergency shelter system.
It took days to get someone into an emergency shelter in the city, said Ere Rendón, vice president of immigrant justice at the non-profit Resurrection Project, which first noticed a bed shortage in December. She explained that this meant the asylum seekers could only stay at local police stations, warm-up centres, or with locals.
Makeshift shelters, such as the one located in the North Island Visitor Center, have been set up throughout the city. Additionally, the state intends to convert a former Kmart on the southwest side into short-term housing.
Unfortunately, no local animal shelters were able to accommodate Kevin and his family. Kristin Huzar, a local of Evanston, Illinois, instead invited the family to stay with her. Donating to a store on the Far North Side that serves as a hub for recent arrivals is how Huzar learned about the family.