Portage Park school converted into migrant shelter, hosting 300 migrants

A former Catholic school building located in the city’s Portage Park neighborhood is being converted into migrant housing; however, despite a grand opening celebration held on Tuesday, the facility isn’t move-in ready.  

The Archdiocese of Chicago is leasing two buildings on the northwest side of the city at no cost. The city, in turn, is subleasing the space to the global humanitarian nonprofit, Zakat Foundation of America.

The shelter, originally slated to open in April, has faced several delays and some pushback from community members in recent months.

While migrant families have moved into the old convent on the church campus, renovations at the former school building are still in progress.  

On Tuesday, a celebration at Our Lady of the Rosary brought migrant families together to break bread. The congregation represents the combined churches of Our Lady of Victory, Saint Bartholomew Catholic Church and Saint Pascal Parish.

Located in the 4900 block of West Addison Street, about 300 migrants are eventually expected to be housed across the former St. Bartholomew convent and school building.

"We’re making critical investments all over the City of Chicago," said Mayor Brandon Johnson.

Attended by Johnson and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, a schedule of events originally included a "tour" of shelter facilities. However, before the opening party began, FOX 32 Chicago was told the main shelter building was not ready.

"There are smaller things that need to be done, but we’re at like 90 percent," said Ald. Ruth Cruz, 30th Ward.

A representative with the city told FOX 32 Chicago off-camera that there are still nails on the ground and renovations are not finished.

"We had to basically convert part of the building to washrooms and shower facilities so that it could be habitable, so that work was paid for by the county and done by our tradespeople," said Preckwinkle.

While updates continue to be made to the former school building, migrant families have moved into the old convent, located on the same property.

"If there are families at the landing zone, they will come to St. Bart’s," said Cruz.

Zakat Foundation of America has spearheaded several projects in the city, but this marks the organization's first migrant shelter. It will be assuming all operating costs of the shelter.

"Zakat Foundation is an international humanitarian organization based in Chicago, the South Side of Chicago, operating in 45 countries," said Halil Demir, executive director, Zakat Foundation of America.

The convent has the capacity to house roughly 50 people, while the main shelter – the former school building – is expected to fit up to 250 more.

As for a timeline of when the former school building will be ‘move-in ready,’ FOX 32 Chicago is told it could be two to three more weeks.  

FOX 32 Chicago has requested a tour of the facility when the work is completed.

According to the mayor’s office, the St. Bartholomew shelter is not considered to be one of 17 ‘city-run’ shelters.

The Archdiocese of Chicago has not disclosed the terms of its lease with the city or how long migrants might be staying on the property.