Chicago begins evicting migrants from shelters as residents decry a 'lack of respect'

Franklin Romero, a 29-year-old Venezuelan migrant, said someone told him just one day before that he had to leave by 2 p.m. Monday. 


CHICAGO — Chicago has begun evicting some migrants from its shelters, a controversial policy that had been delayed for months but appeared haphazard, a migrant told NBC News on Monday.

Migrants who have been evicted, as well as those who face a rapidly approaching deadline, said there has been widespread confusion about the process and frustration with being forced to leave while they still lack the resources to find their own places to stay.

In the first two days of enforcement, fewer than 10 migrants have been evicted from their shelters, according to the city. Five migrants were forced to leave Monday because of the policy, a city spokesperson said, while three were evicted Sunday.

Franklin Romero, 29, a Venezuelan migrant, said someone told him at the Woodlawn shelter just one day before that he had to leave by 2 p.m. Monday. 

“It was unbelievable. We have no stability,” said Romero, who was wearing a silver coat and black pants after he was forced out on a day with freezing temperatures and snow flurries.

Migrants eat dinner outside of a shelter on the Lower West Side of Chicago on March 4, 2024.Armando L. Sanchez / Chicago Tribune via Getty Images

Romero said he tried to explain that he had to work Monday and could not leave the shelter before 2 p.m. with all of his belongings. He also said another person at the shelter told him that he actually needed to leave by 12:30 p.m.

He felt disrespected by being rushed to leave the place he called home for months. 

“It was clear that I needed to leave, and I respected that, but the treatment, it was a lack of respect,” he said. 

The city said Monday that there were 11,253 migrants in 23 city- and state-run shelters and that it has received about 37,308 new arrivals since 2022, when Texas Gov. Greg Abbott began sending people to cities across the country.

The city has sought to limit shelter stays to 60 days for the more than 10,000 migrants, requiring them to find housing or apply for other shelter at the city’s “landing zone” for new arrivals after their exit dates arrive. The evictions also come amid a measles outbreak at one of the shelters.

Thousands of migrants, including families with children, have been given extensions. 

On Friday, the city said that nearly three dozen people would be evicted from their shelters Sunday, but by the evening it said 31 migrants received extensions because of the exemptions, which include enrollment in public benefits, pregnancy or infant care, medical care, medical isolation and quarantine, as well as having families with children under 18.

City officials also said Friday that 2,026 people would be evicted from their current shelters by the end of April. 

Enforcement was postponed three times because of extreme winter weather, staffing concerns and backlash from advocates and some elected officials. On Monday, the City Council’s Progressive Reform Caucus released a statement opposing the policy. 

Volunteer Maria Perez, a member of the Southwest Collective, a collection of groups providing social services, said the extensions do not solve the bigger problem of a lack of resources for the migrants to obtain work and housing they can afford.

“Thirty more days is not enough time. They need the tools to set them up in order for them to succeed in this community,” she said Monday outside a shelter where migrants face eviction. 

“Why are we reprocessing them, right?" she asked. "So we’re just putting these people back into this situation again where they’re going to be migrating everywhere.”

Mayor Brandon Johnson’s administration has said the policy is needed to “decompress” some shelters, especially three that house single migrants, including the Woodlawn facility. 

“These are some of our more expensive shelters to operate, and what we’re trying to do is optimize the resources that we have to be able to carry through,” Cristina Pacione-Zayas, the mayor’s deputy chief of staff, said at a recent briefing. 

Johnson said Friday that “by encouraging resettlement while also providing case-specific extensions with a focus on health and safety, we are advancing a pathway to stability and self-sufficiency.” 

Romero went to the landing zone Monday to seek placement at another shelter, but after his new exit day was processed, he still did not know where he was being placed.

“I still don’t know,” he said before he headed to a warming bus for migrants at the landing zone. “Let’s wait and see where they take me.”

The city said in a statement Monday evening, "Those exiting have the option to return to the Landing Zone and be reprocessed and placed in shelter once again if appropriate beds are available or opt for onward movement."

Yorman Yepez, 25, a Venezuelan migrant, stood for hours in the freezing cold waiting for his friend Romero to return from inside the landing zone as occasional snow flurries fell. The two would not be able to communicate because they lacked Wi-Fi, and Yepez wanted to accompany Romero to his new placement.

“How would you feel if someone told you that you have to leave today from the place where you’ve been living?” said Yepez, wearing a gray hoodie and white sandals with socks. His exit date is April 8. “It’s not pretty. You feel cast aside," he said.

Yepez said the policy disrupts friendships and the camaraderie that builds between shelter residents who come to the U.S. not knowing anyone in the country.

“It’s really difficult. We’re here alone,” he said.

Multiple migrants at the former Wadsworth Elementary School in Woodlawn said that the shelter had cots and rooms still empty and that they did not understand why people had to be evicted. 

Lisbeth Velasquez Mambel, 36, said she was anxious about her exit day in a few weeks, but then she was given an extension Monday because she is in the process of getting an apartment.

Her new exit day is in May, but she fears some fellow migrants will be forced onto the street in the cold, like when she had to sleep on cardboard outside shelters at police stations.

“This is not the solution,” she said. 

Romero said his question about where he would be placed next ended in a bus ride that brought him back to the same shelter he left that morning. 

He discovered Tuesday morning that he had lost his job helping to remodel a home because he was stuck at the landing zone on Monday.

“It cost me so much to find that job,” Romero said Tuesday. “I don’t even know what to do. I have no money coming in. And I’m the head of my household in Venezuela.”

He now has 60 more days before he faces eviction again.