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Chicago to begin evicting migrants from shelters Sunday

City officials said Friday that 2,026 people will be evicted from their current shelters by the end of April.
A triptych with an unidentified migrant and migrants outside a shelter.
The influx of migrants to Chicago, along with Denver, New York and other cities, has put a strain on social services and increased demand for housing.Sebastian Hidalgo for NBC News; Chicago Tribune/TNS via Getty Images file

Chicago will move forward Sunday with its previously delayed plan to evict thousands of migrants from city and state-operated shelters, a move that has been met with outrage by advocates and some local elected officials, and with confusion by migrants who will have to scramble to find other housing.

City officials said Friday that 2,026 people will be evicted from their current shelters by the end of April. The first of those — 35 people — will have to move out Sunday. Overall, 244 migrants will be evicted by the end of the month and the remaining 1,782 will leave throughout the month of April.

The mass eviction is starting months after the city announced in November that it would limit shelter stays to 60 days and require migrants who reached that limit to find other housing or go back to the city’s “landing zone” for newly arrived migrants and request placement at another shelter. The city has postponed the policy three times due to extreme winter weather, staffing concerns and backlash from advocates and some elected officials. 

There were 11,210 people living in 23 active shelters run by the city and state as of Friday, according to a city census. The city has received more than 37,100 new migrants since 2022. Many of them have arrived as part of a campaign by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who is seeking tighter security at the southern border. The influx of migrants to Chicago, along with Denver, New York and other cities, has put a strain on social services and increased demand for housing.

Mayor Brandon Johnson’s office said Friday that about 4,500 people who otherwise would have had to exit shelters in the first wave of evictions will qualify for exemptions that could give them additional 30-day stays in a shelter, which for some could stretch through the end of June.

Those exempt include families with children under 18, those who are currently in the process of securing housing, and people with certain medical issues, including those in quarantine because of a recent measles outbreak. City officials said the exemptions will minimize disruption for the rest of the school year.

“While we know Chicago’s limited resources cannot meet the full scale of need across the New Arrivals Mission,” Johnson said in a statement Friday. “We are constantly evaluating options that will lead to better care for all Chicagoans.”

Some people who have been working with migrants to help them access city services and find housing say the city has not been transparent about the eviction process and that the exemptions bring little comfort or clarity.

“It’s a Band-Aid on an open wound, honestly,” said Vianney Alarcon, who has been helping the migrants since last May. 

Erika Villegas, one of the lead volunteers assisting the migrants, said volunteers have been inundated with texts from migrants who want to know what to do next and if they will end up unhoused.

“Everyone’s anxious and nervous,” Villegas said.

She also criticized the city's process for assisting evicted migrants who seek to remain in shelter.

“This idea of migrants having to leave their current shelter to go to the landing zone to then have to enter the system again is a chaotic and backwards-thinking system that only creates more confusion and tax dollars that are being spent irresponsibly,” Villegas said.

Brandie Knazze, the commissioner of the Chicago Department of Family and Support Services, said migrants will be given notices to remind them of their exit dates and will have to make their own way to the landing zone, where staff “will be able to help them if there are beds available to re-enter the shelter system.”

When asked what would happen if beds were not currently available, Knazze said, “We’ll be working with them to make sure that they can connect with family and friends. That’s part of what the case management is preparing for them but they’ll be able to wait for a bed throughout our shelter system.”

According the city, 14,700 people have "exited shelter due to resettlement" in the Chicago area since the migrant crisis began, another 5,200 people have reunited with family and friends.

Earlier this week, a group of more than 20 local elected officials and 40 organizations sent a letter to the mayor calling for him to end the 60-day shelter stay policy and instead decide shelter stays on a case-by-case basis.

“If the 60 Day Eviction Policy is enforced, the majority of new arrivals, who cannot yet secure work or housing, will face involuntary shelter exits, interruption to community integration and potentially unsheltered homelessness,” the letter said.

One of Chicago's migrant shelters has been at the center of a recent measles outbreak in the city. Ten of the 12 people diagnosed with measles in the city since the beginning of March were connected to the Pilsen shelter housing new arrivals, the Chicago Department of Health said in a news release Thursday.

The city announced on Friday that going forward it will require that “all residents who enter or stay in a city-operated shelter system” are vaccinated for measles, mumps, rubella and varicella. 

It said that all “exposed nonimmune residents” would remain in their shelters through their quarantine periods plus seven days as long as they get vaccinated and comply with quarantine and isolation policies.

Chicago’s Department of Public Health said this week that it has assessed nearly every resident at the shelter and vaccinated around 900 people while confirming immunity for the remainder of people. 

Alarcon, the volunteer, said, “The biggest concern right now is making sure they contain the measles outbreak,” she said, adding, “but our main concern overall is finding the proper housing” so that they do not end up stuck in the shelter system.

Given the lack of clarity in the process until the news conference on Friday, she said, “I don’t have any high hopes with the logistics of what they’re going to implement because of how everything’s been going on.”