With each passing week, it becomes more apparent that City Hall’s ability to properly handle the migrant issue is questionable at best.
The latest misstep is in Brighton Park, where neighbors are loudly objecting to the construction of a tent camp on a vacant site at 38th Street and California Avenue.
This editorial board remains opposed to relying on even “winterized” tents to house migrants. There have to be other solutions involving vacant existing properties or space in sparsely used buildings that could use rental income.
But what troubles us right now: Officials attending a Brighton Park community meeting Tuesday evening were unable to say when the migrants would be moved into the 11-acre site because the city is conducting an environmental assessment to determine whether the parcel is too toxic to use.
That’s right: Of all the potential spots in Chicago, the city picks a site only to discover the land once contained a zinc smelting operation — a process that can potentially cause sodium oxide, zinc dust and other harmful byproducts to leach into the soil.
But this is typical of the city’s too-often slapdash approach to the migrant issue. Yes, it’s undoubtedly a difficult, and costly, problem. But it’s past time for the city to get it together, and constructing tents just as winter approaches, on land that may or may not be contaminated, is hardly the best solution.
A $255 million crisis
About 20,000 asylum-seekers have arrived in Chicago since the summer of 2022, with approximately 4,000 of the arrivals sleeping at police stations, O’Hare Airport or in the outdoors until better shelter can be found.
Meanwhile, City Hall certainly can spend money on the migrant question, inking a yearlong $29.4 million contract last month with controversial firm GardaWorld Federal Services to build and run the tent camps. Denver scuttled its plans to hire GardaWorld because of its bad track record with handling migrants in Texas.
Chicago is likely to spend $255 million on the crisis between 2022 and the end of this year.
That’s enough time and money — even allowing for false starts — to start getting things right. But City Hall, and the Fifth Floor in particular, keeps stepping on one yard rake after another.
The latest blunder was City Hall’s apparent failure to loop in Ald. Julia Ramirez, whose 12th Ward includes the Brighton Park site, about the plan. In a letter released late Sunday, Ramirez insisted she had nothing to do with the city’s decision. At a community meeting Tuesday, Ramirez said she wasn’t given a say on the plan.
“The Mayor’s office did not consult with me or my office about their current plans to construct a temporary shelter — meant to house 1,500 people — at 38th & California,” Ramirez asserted in her letter.
Other blunders include Mayor Brandon Johnson scheduling himself a needless fact-finding mission to the country’s southern border (that he canceled, and rightly so), to his administration being slow on the draw in working with the Roman Catholic archdiocese and other religious orders who are willing to work with the city to find housing for the migrants.
Beatriz Ponce de León, deputy mayor for immigrant, migrant and refugee rights, told Brighton Park residents this week the tent camp is not a permanent solution but a stopgap fix — particularly over the winter — to address the waves of asylum-seekers arriving in Chicago.
And we can see that. But what we’d also like to see is a more robust, thoughtful approach, or at least the beginnings of one, to tackle and solve this issue.
How Chicago handles this crisis will likely define our city — one way or another — for years to come.
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