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Controversial plan for new migrant shelter at Chicago park fieldhouse on hold

By SABRINA FRANZA

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    CHICAGO (WBBM) — Amid vocal protests from neighbors upset with efforts to turn the Amundsen Park fieldhouse into a new shelter for migrants, the local alderman said the city has put those plans on hold while it explores a possible alternative site.

For days, the Galewood community has been protesting the city’s decision to move hundreds of newly arrived migrants into the Amundsen Park fieldhouse, a move that had been expected to come as soon as Wednesday.

But on Monday evening, Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29th), who had opposed the plans for a migrant shelter at Amundsen Park, said the city has put those plans on hold while the city explores the possibility of using a vacant residential building nearby instead.

Taliaferro said he had proposed instead housing migrants at a vacant residential building in the 1900 block of North Austin Boulevard. He said the owner owes the city $3 million in unpaid fines, and the city might be willing to forgive that debt if the building can be used as a migrant shelter.

While city officials explore the viability of that option, the Amundsen Park plan is on hold, according to Taliaferro.

A spokesman for the mayor’s office confirmed Monday night that the Amundsen Park shelter plan is on hold, but did not elaborate.

On Monday, opponents of the Amundsen Park plan had staged two protests asking Mayor Brandon Johnson to stop the transition before Chicago Park District staff is asked to hand over the keys to the fieldhouse.

“How dare you make a decision without sitting down with us?” said protester Linda Johnson.

Protesters said the programming at Amundsen Park is irreplaceable to the Galewood community.

“They want to take our resources away. That’s our asset. We pay for it,” said Gerald K. Harris, president of the Windy City Dolphins Youth Football League.

The organization has used the Amundsen Park football field for decades, with a steadfast goal.

“Our kids are doing some positive things. They’re not in the street. They’re not in gangs. They’re not doing anything that’s negative. They’re trying to grow and be productive young Black men and women,” Harris said.

The football program is just one of many organizations which will lose the use of Amundsen Park facilities when the migrants move in.

While anyone can still access the park’s football field once the migrants arrive, the fieldhouse will be off-limits to anyone but migrants.

Harris said the fieldhouse is necessary to the Windy City Dolphins’ operations.

“We have six football teams, right? And then we have four cheerleading teams. Who’s going to be able to accommodate us and that program?” he said.

The park is also a prominent meeting place for seniors like Harris, and others. Amundsen Park’s programs for seniors will be relocated at least 1.5 miles away once the migrant shelter opens.

“They’re saying go two miles away. Half of them don’t drive,” Harris said.

Some alderpeople have repeatedly voiced that they feel the city is lacking transparency when it comes to opening shelters for migrants; that they’re the last to know when a shelter moves into their ward.

“Whether it’s Amundsen Park, Columbus Park, I would never suggest any publicly used space,” Taliaferro said as he joined protesters outside Amundsen Park on Monday. He said he agrees the fieldhouse should not be used as a migrant shelter.

Taliaferro, whose ward includes the park, said he wasn’t consulted before Mayor Brandon Johnson’s office told him this was happening, whether his constituents liked it or not.

“Although I try to be as transparent as possible, this is something I just could not inform [constituents] about until it was too late,” he said.

The alderman said he suggested an alternative location, but hasn’t heard back from the Johnson administration on a timeline.

“I don’t know whether were trying to save money, but I think in the midst of saving money – if that is the case – we’re losing the confidence of our residents of the city,” he said.

More than 200 asylum seekers were expected to move into the facility, which has a capacity of 250 people. They’re expected to stay for at least six months.

As of Monday morning, more than 18,000 migrants have arrived in Chicago since the end of August 2022.

Nearly 11,000 migrants were staying in temporary shelters, with another 3,500 waiting for shelter space while staying at Chicago police stations or at O’Hare International Airport.

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