Woodlawn community packs meeting to voice concerns over migrant shelter

A community meeting Thursday night in Woodlawn was packed with many people not happy about the city’s decision to go ahead and open up a shelter for asylum seekers – without their input – at a vacant elementary school campus.

City leaders presented specifics for the plan itself, but that still seemed to offer little comfort to many.

"I am, to say the least, freaking appalled at this fiasco," said one resident, who was among hundreds who showed up to vent similar feelings about the city’s plan to open up a refugee shelter at the vacant Wadsworth Elementary School on the 6600 block of S. Ellis.

"I’m especially concerned about loitering and solicitation that may occur on the campus grounds," another resident told the panel, consisting of representatives from the Department of Family and Support Services and the Chicago Police Department.


DFSS gave details about the shelter: an 11 p.m. curfew, the 24/7 security, the 'no drugs or alcohol' policy, and the process for residents to provide input.

But for most at the meeting, it was "too little, too late."

"They didn’t even tell us, the residents," said one man during the public comment session. "They did not tell us anything until the last minute."

"We will work to make sure that we communicate clearly with our plans going forward," DFSS Commissioner Brandie Knazze said in response.

Others complained that help is going to new arrivals but not to the area's existing homeless.

"This is beautiful to go in and give a shelter for people," one man said.  "But what about the people who have been here for the last 20 years?"

Knazze replied, "the work that we’re doing for new arrivals is not detracting from the regular work that the department is tasked to do."

Final cleaning and final construction of  the shelter is expected to be completed next week, with the first 250 residents moving in on January 23. The city says it’s planning for the shelter to stay up and running for two years, but they’re hoping it can close before then.