Earlier this month, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s office and the Illinois Department of Human Services held conversations with Evanston leaders about housing some of the more than 1,000 refugees that have been bused to Illinois, according to City Manager Luke Stowe.
At the moment, Evanston’s shelters are full and most hotels are booked with Northwestern football games and other events coming up this fall, Stowe said. So no arrangements have yet been set.
But Illinois officials, including Pritzker, expect more migrants to arrive in the coming days and weeks, and the state is looking for Chicago and surrounding suburbs to help provide food, clothing and shelter until these people have a chance to get on their feet and find more permanent housing.
“We’ve had multiple discussions with the Governor’s office and IDHS in September about whether Evanston could help house migrants,” Stowe told the RoundTable. “One of the challenges is that the request is typically for 60 to 90 days of housing, which is difficult for our hotel partners due to Northwestern events and demand for hotel rooms. We are not currently housing any migrants, but we expect future requests and are preparing for it.”
Since late August, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has sent an estimated 750 to 1,000 migrants from his state to Chicago in an apparent political stunt designed to make immigration top of mind to voters as the all-important midterm elections approach.
The migrants, many from South and Central America, left dangerous or poor conditions in their home countries and spent weeks, sometimes months, traveling to the U.S. southern border. Texas officials then loaded them onto buses for the 25-hour trip to Chicago.
Many details unclear
But the details about where people would stay, what temporary shelter locations might be used and which local nonprofits may be involved and how many might come to Evanston are not yet clear.
Connections for the Homeless Executive Director Betty Bogg said the nonprofit spoke to IDHS Secretary Grace Hou earlier this month about available rooms in Evanston that could possibly house migrants.
Hou “had a well-thought-out and well-resourced plan to stand up hotel-based operations, which would take blocks of rooms for 60 to 90 days and provide case management and other immigrant-specific services,” Bogg said, but she called it “likely” that Northwestern-related events have limited local hotel capacity for much of the near future.
Pritzker’s office and IDHS did not immediately respond to requests for comment from the RoundTable for more information about the possibility of Evanston housing migrants.
For his part, though, Council member Devon Reid (8th Ward) said he is meeting with Evanston Health and Human Services Director Ike Ogbo, Ninth Ward Council member Juan Geracaris and other leaders next week to come up with a plan.
Evanston is a welcoming city with the resources to help out refugees and migrants who desperately need support, he said.
“What I anticipate is that Evanston will take on a number of migrants, and the state will provide some resources temporarily,” Reid said. “The goal is for the city to have the resources to continue supporting not only these migrants, but the existing refugee community.”
In the meantime, people can volunteer with the City of Chicago to support the new arrivals or donate clothes, backpacks, toiletries and other supplies. The first group of children to arrive on buses from Texas started school on Monday, Pritzker announced on social media this week.
“To our schools, know that my administration will be there with resources and support as you do what you do best – educate our young people,” he said.
Pritzker has also used recent press conferences to slam the decision by Abbott to send these refugees to immigrant sanctuary cities like Chicago and Washington, D.C. with no warning or resources provided ahead of time. He has publicly described the move as “sowing chaos” and a “political game.”
In recent days Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis took Abbott’s scheme to a new level when he sent a plane to Texas and allegedly lured migrants with promises of a free trip to Massachusetts, housing and other perks.
But the plane then dropped the migrants off on the island of Martha’s Vineyard with no warning or recourse. Three of those migrants have already filed lawsuits against DeSantis.