Migrants relocate to Daley College from YMCA despite pushback

Migrants were relocated to Daley College on Tuesday for temporary housing.

CTA buses carrying asylum seekers left the High Ridge YMCA around 2:45 p.m. Migrant families had been staying at the shuttered YMCA since the fall.

Last week, Mayor Brandon Johnson said that the city's overall goal is to ensure that shelters are a short-term solution. They also want to free up space inside local police stations, which have been overwhelmed with migrants sleeping on cots in the lobbies.


The move has been postponed multiple times and faced criticism from migrant parents whose children were enrolled in schools nearby.

"We’ve worked very closely with these kids, it’s heartbreaking that they’re being moved," said Erin Armstrong, a preschool teacher with Philip Rogers Fine Arts Elementary School. "They’ve really gotten comfortable here and are just a part of the family. They felt very comfortable at school and we were excited to get ready for the summer and the fall with them."

Armstrong and other teachers at the school have grown close to a group of immigrant students who had been staying at the YMCA at 2424 W. Touhy Ave. — until Tuesday afternoon, when busloads of families left the facility and headed south to Daley College, at 76th and Pulaski in West Lawn.

Some plan to make the lengthy commute down to Daley College, to teach summer school, Armstrong said.

"We’re really going to miss them. We’ve welcomed them with open arms here and they were really at home with us," said Armstrong.

Johnson said families that are relocating to Daley College will be able to utilize similar programs offered by CPS at Hurley Elementary, and receive the same services they currently receive from city shelter locations.

Families carrying suitcases and totes hurried into the college’s buildings to avoid the rain on Tuesday. Small children, some carrying their own small backpacks, trailed behind into the buildings.

Adults unloaded bicycles from one of the buses. Another CTA extended bus was filled with what appeared to be suitcases and other belongings the families had acquired.

Rich Guidice, Mayor Johnson’s chief of staff, said families with children needed to moved to Daley College to free the High Ridge YMCA to be used exclusively for single men who now dominate the 500-strong population still sleeping on the floors of Chicago police stations.

"We prefer to keep families separated from single men and keep the families intact for safety and security," Guidice said.

Jason Lee, a senior adviser to the mayor, characterized separating families from single men as a "precaution."

"For children and families, you just want to have some containment there so you can have better management and less risk. The last thing we can afford is to put anybody at risk because you have different people who shouldn’t be co-mingling," he said.

Daley College already has been housing other migrant families.

After some pushback, the move from the YMCA was delayed from last Friday to Sunday. Then, on Sunday, it was delayed again until Tuesday, "to provide more time for planning," according to a statement issued by the office of Mayor Johnson.

But Tuesday, the move finally occurred — and it wasn’t just teachers who were upset.

One woman who had grown close to one of the families living at the YMCA said they had begun to put down roots, and both parents had found jobs in the neighborhood. Despite the move, she said, they intend to commute to those jobs from Daley College.

Ald. Jeylu Gutierrez (14th), whose ward includes Daley College, said her Southwest Side constituents were prepared to welcome the families with children with open arms.

"I know the mayor’s office and the departments — they’ve been working tirelessly to get a good place for these families. Unfortunately, we don’t have any other spaces available at the moment," the rookie alderperson said.

The migrant crisis has generated local resistance in several communities where respite centers have been opened in shuttered schools and Chicago Park District facilities. In some places, it has exacerbated historic political tensions between African Americans and Latinos that were on display during the contentious meeting when a divided City Council approved $51 million in emergency funding for the migrant crisis — enough to carry the city only through June 30.

But, Gutierrez said Tuesday she anticipates no such resistance in her majority Latino-ward.

"We’re not racists in the 14th Ward. A lot of our hard-working people who are immigrants themselves understand the struggles since we all got here for different reasons and we struggled at the beginning," Gutierrez said.

Ald. Debra Silverstein (50th) represents the Far North Side ward that includes the YMCA.

"My community has opened their arms and their hearts to whoever is living there," Silverstein said.

"I know this is very difficult for the families. I definitely hear that. But in speaking with the mayor’s office, they’ve really been concerned about them, but feel that they…need to move them to the Daley location."

Before the families from the High Ridge YMCA arrived, a group of newly arrived migrants — including small children — stood across the street from Daley College near an abandoned storefront trying to attract the attention of motorists zooming by Pulaski Road. Three of the men, who asked not to be publicly identified, said they’ve spent about a week living with their families at the makeshift shelter inside Daley College.

They were told they could live there only 30 days, which is why they spent all morning seeking the attention of motorists who might help them get jobs. But offers have been rare, the men said. Good Samaritans have brought them meals, clothes and diapers for the children, they said.

The men are seeking asylum, and would like to learn everything about living in the U.S. — including how to pay taxes.

"Many of us don’t have bad intentions. … We want to construct and generate income to send to our countries, to give our children a worthy education," one of the men said in Spanish. "We hope that this country extends a helping hand and sees that we are hardworking fathers whose work varies from laborers to engineers to lawyers."

This all comes as the Biden administration announced that it will send Illinois more than $29 million to help with the migrant crisis.

More than $10 million of that will go to the city of Chicago. The rest will go to state-led programs.

Sun-Times Media Wire contributed to this report.