Chicago migrants experience first blast of winter-like weather

On Tuesday, Chicago residents experienced a sharp drop in temperatures – prompting many to reach for their winter coats. 

However, for thousands of migrants who are new to the area, the sudden onset of cold weather was their first glimpse at winter in the Windy City.  

Snow was falling intermittently throughout the day, and for newcomers it marked an entirely new experience. With joy and amazement, many of them took photos and playfully made snowballs, all while wearing smiles on their faces despite the biting cold.

On Tuesday night, warming buses were dispatched to 21 police districts across the city, including Chicago Police District 18 on the Near North Side.

There, migrant families are sleeping in tents on the cold and wet concrete.

"Really what we are concerned about is people who are exposed to the elements, especially 24/7 sleeping outdoors," said Beth Amodio, president & CEO, One Warm Coat.

According to city officials, more than 3,000 asylum seekers still do not have a roof over their heads. It is a pressing situation that is becoming more urgent by the day – and by the degree.

"Even at 50 degrees Fahrenheit, you can develop hypothermia with prolonged exposure or with wet clothing," said Amodio. "And children are more likely to develop hypothermia because their bodies are not able yet to regulate their body temperatures like a healthy adult would be."

About two weeks ago, Amodio says she was contacted by the city to help.

"We have been told that some of the migrant families are getting off of the bus with their feet still wet," said Amodio.

One Warm Coat’s mission is to provide free coats to children and adults who would not otherwise be able to afford them. It is now one of several nonprofits the City of Chicago is partnering with to address the needs of new arrivals.

"Whether that’s making sure people have access to coats, gloves, even shoes, sometimes people are arriving in flip flops," said Rey Wences-Najera, First Deputy Mayor of Immigrant, Migrant and Refugee Rights.

Community members are also stepping up to help. In a heartwarming scene on Tuesday afternoon, individuals were seen bringing warm winter clothing to migrants at District 18.

Still, long-term solutions are desperately needed.

One mother of two from Venezuela, who asked that FOX 32 Chicago protect her identity, said Tuesday’s cold was tolerable, but living in these conditions is not what she expected.

"We don't have friends or family here that can give us shelter, but my dream of coming here is for my children – to grow up here, to be good in school, and to be professionals. Opportunities we don't have in my country," she said.

As the woman holds out hope for spots to open in a shelter, Dr. Jeffrey Kopin of Northwestern Medicine says it's important that migrants are taught how to protect themselves amid this shift in the weather.

"How to learn to deal with our cold is a problem," said Dr. Jeffrey Kopin, chief medical officer, Northwestern Medicine Lake Forest Hospital. "We who are native Chicagoans, people who have been here a long time, we know what to do, so if you see someone who's new to our weather, teach them what to do. Share with them the experience so we can all get through this winter weather together."

In response to the current conditions, the Chicago Transit Authority is taking steps to provide relief. Between 8 p.m. and 8 a.m., they are offering warming buses outside at least 16 police districts across the city and at the migrant bus landing zone located near Clinton and Vernon Park Place. The city is working to expand the number of warming buses available, and on Tuesday night, the CTA was able to provide relief at 21 police districts.

Officials say the buses are not only for migrants but also for homeless individuals.

There are various ways that YOU can help, including donating new or gently-used coats or hosting a coat drive in partnership with One Warm Coat.

Find a One Warm Coat drive near you by clicking HERE.

Inquire about holding your own coat drive by clicking HERE.

The City of Chicago is collecting new items for asylum seekers in partnership with various organizations. To view and purchase from Instituto’s Rapid Response Wish List, click HERE.

New items can also be dropped off at New Life Centers located at 4401 W. Ogden Ave.