Residents of the Wadsworth migrant shelter, 6420 S. University Ave., stand outside on March 20, 2024. Credit: Photo by Marc C. Monaghan

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As the city begins to carry out its sixty-day limit policy on migrant shelter stays, shelter residents across the city report confusion about the eviction process and worsening hurdles to finding more permanent housing. 

At Woodlawn’s Wadsworth migrant shelter, 6420 S. University Ave., one resident, whose name in this article has been changed to Luis to protect his identity, was given an eviction date of April 13. 

Luis, who traveled from Venezuela to Chicago in January, said that a forced relocation to a different part of the city would undermine the progress and connections he’s made at Wadsworth. He also fears it would complicate his asylum case. 

“It’s a difficult process because, with all the progress you’ve been able to make, you practically need to start from zero,” he said of his pending eviction. 

Luis has relied on the shelter for food, a place to sleep and support from case managers for the last few months as he looks for work and waits for his asylum case to be processed. With a court date for his case set for April, Luis said he has used the shelter address in his paperwork and expects to receive important mail there.

He hopes to receive an extension to his stay from the city. If not, he and five other residents with the same deadline plan to rent an apartment together.

“If we don’t get a renewal we will make it possible by renting, and making it possible on our behalf instead of going to another shelter,” he said. “Either way, we are adapted and we know people, we know how things work here.” 

First introduced by Mayor Brandon Johnson’s office in November, the controversial sixty-day policy mandates that anyone entering the city’s twenty-three migrant shelters will be limited to a stay of sixty days. 

But as the first wave of sixty-day notices were set to be acted on in mid-January, the city extended the eviction deadlines due to below-freezing temperatures. The deadlines were extended several more times due to inclement weather and short staffing at shelters, according to the city. Officials began carrying out the policy last week. 

As of March 25, there are 10,555 people living in the city’s temporary shelter system. In total, since the first waves of people seeking asylum were bussed to Chicago from the country’s southern border in August 2022, more than 37,000 people have arrived to the city.

Since then, about 15,234 people have exited the shelters and resettled across the Chicago area; 5,439 people have reunited with sponsors, such as family and friends, and more than 4,000 people are currently being helped with resettlement efforts and securing housing. 

In a statement about the policy, the city maintains that the evictions are intended to “advanc(e) a pathway to stability and self-sufficiency” by “encouraging resettlement.” 

There are case-specific extensions for health and safety issues, to be determined on “an individual basis.” Possible extensions could be made for people who are pregnant or caring for infants, people receiving medical care or who have a disability, those with concerns of gender-based violence or who need to quarantine

Under the most recent guidelines, families with school-aged children will receive thirty-day extensions, which can be renewed up to three times through June 10 to “minimize disruption for the duration of the school year.” 

When evicted, people have the option to return to the “landing zone,” the area where buses transporting migrants into the state are supposed to drop people off, in order to make a new shelter request.

“We’ve had people on the buses sometimes for a few days, sometimes three, sometimes four,” said a lead volunteer in the 2nd Police District, who asked to remain nameless. “There’s no showers at the landing zone, there’s no real meals at the landing zone. (There) are snacks and cold food.” 

She said people are only allotted one bag to bring with them.  

The first evictions occurred last Sunday, March 17 at the Wadsworth, Gage Park and Elston shelters, according to NBC. On that day, however, the city said that only three people were evicted out of the thirty-four slated for removal. 

The city did not respond to questions regarding how many people have been evicted to date and what resources are being provided. 

One volunteer who assists migrants with eviction needs, who goes by Joce, said they didn’t see evictions occur at Wadsworth that day.

Joce waited outside the Wadsworth shelter again on Wednesday afternoon after learning that evictions might occur that day. But they left after a few hours, determining that the evictions were not actually happening that day.

Joce added that volunteers are cobbling together information from press releases, news articles and from people living at the shelters. 

“There is just a huge lack of clarity and a lack of transparency about the process,” Joce said. “When we talked to people in the shelters very few people have indicated that they are getting or have notice that they’re getting evicted, or they’re all saying it’s happening in April.”

Volunteers like Joce wait on the scene to observe and document the eviction process. They also try to lend a hand when they can, such as moving belongings, purchasing needed supplies and providing rides to the landing zone. 

“We’re just doing our best to be servers and documenters of what’s occurring,” Joce said. 

The city has said residents will be allowed forty-eight hours to keep their belongings at the shelter, but Joce expressed doubt about this policy 

“It could mean they (leave), and then they could throw their stuff away,” they added. 

Annie Gomberg with The People’s Shelter Response Team, which was formed in March of last year to respond to the needs of asylum seekers sheltered at police stations, called the sixty-day policy “a real shame.”

“The eviction policy as a motivator to get people to leave shelter does nothing—people don’t want to stay in the shelters,” Gomberg said. “They want to be independent, but they have few pathways to get there. If they don’t have money, can’t legally work, have no ID, no bank account, have no credit, aren’t citizens, don’t speak the language … What are their options?”

The city has so far not been able to meet the high demand for Chicago CityKey ID cards, which is a government-issued ID card for people regardless of their legal status. 

“As that population has transitioned (from police stations) to living in city shelters, the need has shifted,” Gomberg said. “Most of us now have personal ties to this community and want to see the new arrivals thrive, not just survive, in the City of Chicago.” 

She also alleged that the evictions were needlessly disruptive. Last Monday, Gomberg said she met another resident of Wadsworth, whose friends had been evicted from the shelter just days prior.  

“(They) returned to the landing zone, were processed, missed the whole day of work and then were sent back to Wadsworth,” Gomberg said.

The Asylum Seeker Emergency Rental Assistance Program, a state program which provides three months of rental assistance, is only available to people who arrived on or before November 17 and are currently living in a shelter. 

Because Luis arrived two months after the program’s deadline, he doesn’t qualify for that assistance. 

“The only real help that we could receive is a work permit,” Luis said, noting that he and many others have struggled to find stable income without a permit. “No employer will risk hiring us without a work permit. Everywhere we look they ask for a work permit.”

When Luis can’t find work, he sells food and drinks outside of the shelters. 

“We have to find a way to survive,” Luis said. 

“We are conscious that if we are caught selling Coca-Cola or food outside of a shelter without a permit we will be charged with a fine or have an issue,” he added. “But even so, we need to try to survive because we have family in Venezuela, wife, kids, people who depend on us, we have to find a way to provide for them and for ourselves.”

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Zoe Pharo is a staff writer at the Hyde Park Herald. Citlali Pérez is a freelance writer at South Side Weekly.

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