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Lightfoot plans migrant shelter in South Shore after outrage in Woodlawn

Photo caption: South Shore High School 

Three months after drawing backlash from opening a migrant shelter in Woodlawn, residents in South Shore are again lashing out at Mayor Lori Lightfoot, whose office on Monday, May 1, announced plans to open yet another migrant shelter in the vacant South Shore High School, 7626 S. Constance.

Lightfoot’s latest plan to house migrants at South Shore High School appears to be a done deal as the city continues to receive an average of 100 migrants a day from Republican Texas Governor Greg Abbott.

With less than two weeks before Lightfoot leaves office, her administration scheduled a community town hall meeting on the city’s plan at 6 p.m. on Thursday, May 4, at South Shore High School.

The school is surrounded by rows of single-family homes and the Temple of Brotherly Love Community Church. In 2020, the city announced the Chicago Police Department signed a lease to operate a temporary police professional development center at the former high school for at least two years.

The school building became vacant in 2014 when students moved into South Shore International College Preparatory High School.

Gloria Norwood, who lives just seven blocks south of South Shore High School, said the plans to house migrants “is a slap in the residents’ faces because it’s their community. Anytime someone does something underhanded and sneaky, they don’t want to face the public because they would get pushback. I mentioned it to my neighbor who, likewise was caught off guard. Lori was wrong and Michelle [Harris] too.”

Callers flooded radio station WVON’s morning talk show with complaints.

One caller, James, said, “The people who suffer for the migrants are the residents in the Black community. This takes away the resources we desperately need in the Black community. Keep these people in their country until we have this country in place.”

Andre Smith, who ran for alderman in the 20th Ward and tried to block a migrant bus from arriving at the Wadsworth shelter, said, “You want to call this a sanctuary city? This is ridiculous. These public officials should be on these phone calls.”

Alderman Michelle Harris, whose 8th Ward includes South Shore High School, said in the Sun-Times she does not support housing newly arrived immigrant families at the shuttered school. Harris said she has questions and concerns about the funding, safety and “humanity” of the plan. Harris said she plans to press for alternative solutions.

“I was recently notified by the mayor’s office that the old South Shore High School building will house migrant families. Housing sites are operating in every part of the city, and this site is one of the last facilities available to house migrant families,” Harris said in the statement to the media.

More than a dozen South Shore community leaders reportedly were not informed of the city’s plan before they learned about it in the news media. One prominent leader in South Shore, Tonya Trice, executive director of the South Shore Chamber of Commerce, told the Sun-Times she feels the neighborhood is being used as a “dumping ground.”

“Is it the best use of the building, and is it the right solution for asylum seekers?” Trice said. “And that’s what’s troubling to me, because are these decisions being made just randomly?”

The plans have renewed anger at Mayor Lightfoot, whose administration was caught lying to Woodlawn residents who learned from a CBS2 Chicago investigation that the city turned the vacant Wadsworth Elementary School into a migrant shelter despite heavy opposition.

With $1.5 million in renovations to Wadsworth Elementary School, that plan was a done deal made without any community meetings with Woodlawn residents. As public outcry boiled over, three community meetings were held, but Mayor Lightfoot skipped all of them. One day after the January 28 community meeting, television newscasts showed Mayor Lightfoot was in Chinatown participating in the annual Lunar New Year’s parade.

In a meeting with the Black Press that following Monday, January 30, Mayor Lightfoot when asked about an update on the migrant situation in Woodlawn, said, “We had our third community meeting Saturday,” even though she didn’t attend that meeting.

Last week, three months after the shelter opened, Woodlawn residents learned during a community meeting on Zoom that the city doubled the capacity of the Wadsworth migrant shelter to 497 people from the original 250.

There have not been any reported criminal incidents since the Wadsworth shelter opened in January. Still, residents accused the city of a lack of transparency and shutting them out of talks to house migrants in their neighborhood.

Recently, Mayor Lightfoot and Governor JB Pritzker asked Governor Abbott to stop sending migrants from his state to Chicago. They learned that Governor Abbott will resume bussing families with children to Chicago and other states.

Since August, more than 7,400 refugees and asylum seekers have reportedly arrived in Chicago, with more than 100 new people requesting shelter every day, according to Department of Family and Support Services Commissioner Brandie Knazze. With a $53 million shortfall, Knazze said the city is running out of resources, staffing and shelter space to house new arrivals.

The situation appears to be more of a political problem than a migrant problem. Governor Abbott, along with Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, have bussed migrants to shame, burden, and to assert their conservative views to Democratic states that have sanctuary cities.

New York Mayor Eric Adams in Politico accused Governor Abbott of using this crisis to hurt Black-run cities. Those cities headed by Black mayors are New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Washington, D.C., and Denver.

Expecting a surge of migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border before the Title 42 health policy expires May 11, President Joe Biden this week announced plans to send an additional 1,500 active-duty troops to the U.S.-Mexico border. Currently there are approximately 2,500 National Guard troops on the border.

Title 42 was invoked in 2020 to override U.S. immigration policies during the coronavirus pandemic to stop or expel migrants at the border during the public health crisis. Since then, authorities have stopped migrants trying to enter America 2.5 million times, according to the Associated Press. In recent days, CNN reported U.S. border officials have had around 7,000 daily encounters on the U.S. southern border.

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