Critical shortages hit Chicago migrant shelters: Diapers, essentials in high demand

Migrant families living in Chicago are facing a serious problem that's putting their child's safety at risk – a diaper shortage. 

A local nonprofit organization that helps migrant mothers living in shelters says they were shocked to learn that many mothers have been reusing soiled diapers due to the shortage. 

The Southwest Collective says diapers, sanitary napkins and nutritious food for children are all in short supply. 

There are currently 12,068 migrants living in 23 active shelters run by the city and state. Many of the migrants are children.

"They are only allowed two diapers a day and that is per child," said Maria Perez, with the Southwest Collective.

Perez visits the migrant shelter on 23rd and Halsted Monday through Friday to serve free hot cocoa and coffee. She's followed many of the asylum seekers from the police stations to the shelters.

"Parents are forced to keep the diapers on longer or to keep them on only at night," Perez said. "When they ask for more things… when they are insulting them… they are not going to ask for more things when they are being insulted." 

The city did receive roughly 50 pallets of supplies, including diapers, last week. It gets supplies from the Illinois Emergency Management Agency, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and outside vendors. 

A city official says shortages from those agencies can result in shortages in the shelters. 

"The big concern that a lot of parents are sharing with us is nutrition. So, the food is a constant issue, right? The food is an issue because it's not a lot of variety. It's a lot of the cheapest we can make, which understandable. You've got 2,500 people in this shelter, so how do you feed them? It's going to be a lot of rice and pasta and breads and things of that nature," said Jaime Groth Searle, of the Southwest Collective. 

The Southwest Collective is a nonprofit run by five mothers who have been in contact with 1,000 migrant mothers, helping to provide them with assistance. 

They do receive donations, but the founder says often they share the burden and will go into their own pockets to help others, including Chicagoans and migrants. 

"The diapers are in short supply and so, sometimes we go out and get them, especially when we are talking about a certain size or a certain need," Searle said.