Migrants begin moving out of 5 Chicago Park District shelters

Strollers, a crib and suitcases were among the items Omar Torres and his family packed into and atop a pickup and minivan Saturday afternoon as they moved out of the Broadway Armory Park Fieldhouse.

They were among the first of 195 asylum seekers who will leave the Edgewater shelter over the coming weeks, as Mayor Brandon Johnson aims to restore Chicago Park District programming heading into the spring at a handful of facilities that have provided makeshift housing for many of the city’s newest arrivals.

With a recent ebb in the flow of migrants to Chicago from the southern U.S. border, Johnson’s office says it will redirect a total 730 asylum seekers over the next few weeks from five park facilities to other nearby shelters. That’ll open up Brands Park, Gage Park, the Leone Beach Boathouse and Piotrowski Park, in addition to Broadway Armory Park.

The move comes after nearly a year of protests from nearby residents upset with the lack of park district programming, who staged a demonstration as Mayor Brandon Johnson’s eviction plan started nearly two weeks ago.

A total of 29 migrants have been evicted from city shelters since March 16 — none in Saturday’s park district shelter shuffle — after several postponements and a measles outbreak.

Move-outs started at two of the park district shelters Saturday, according to the city’s Office of Emergency Management and Communications.

That’s when Torres and his family were told to pack up, he told reporters outside Broadway Armory, though other residents were told they’d have until Monday to move.

Torres didn’t know where he and his family were headed — just that it was another city-run shelter.

Luis Maracano, a migrant living at the Gage Park field house, said he and others were told by the city Friday that they wouldn’t have to move to a new shelter for nearly two more weeks. Saturday morning, he and others played softball on a baseball diamond across the street, unbothered by the upcoming move.

Maracano said he and the other temporary Gage Park residents — 258 in all by the city’s count — weren’t told where which shelter they’d end up at, either.

Torres, who came to the U.S. with his family from Venezuela five months ago, said his focus was finding a permanent housing solution. Moving was the easy part, he said, as some family members with cars came to help move his family’s belongings — he was more concerned with landing a job and securing independence for him and his family.

Torres said the only reason they’re still relying on city shelters is because he hasn’t received federal authorization to work — a process that can drag on for months.

“We need a work permit for everyone to be able to become independent from the shelters,” Torres told a reporter through a translator. “We are all in the shelters because we do not have a work permit to be able to depend on ourselves.”

When asked what work he would like to do, he replied simply: “Anything.”

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