Chicago, IL

Plan for 'Migrant Refuge Camp' in Roseland, Chicago Sparks Outcry From Neighborhood Residents

Natalie Frank, Ph.D.

Neighbors looking forward to planned housing, retail, fear migrant camp will cost jobs, investments
Residents oppose the planned "migrant camp" at the abandoned Jewel-Osco at 115th Street in the South Side Roseland neighborhood of ChicagoPhoto bySixth Ward [CC BY-SA 3.0]

South Side residents of Chicago's Roseland neighborhood are fervently opposing a plan to establish a 'migrant camp' on a vacant lot in their community. This contentious proposal, announced recently, has stirred heated debates and strong reactions among local residents.

The initiative, aimed at providing temporary housing for migrants and refugees, has been met with fierce resistance from many South Side neighbors. They argue that the proposed camp's location in Roseland is unsuitable and could have far-reaching consequences for the community.

The vacant lot in question, located in the Roseland neighborhood in South Side Chicago, was alloted for a housing and retail development scheduled to break ground next year has been repurposed as a 'migrant camp,' This has raised concerns and triggered anger about its potential impact on the neighborhood.

Around 100 people crammed into the Sheldon Heights Church of Christ Wednesday night to hear Ald. Ronnie Mosley (21st) present information about the plan for a temporary shelter for migrants in his ward at the empty parking lot at 115th and Halsted Street. The church quickly filled and a large crowd gathered outside to have a say in what would happen the the lot.

Local leaders and activists have organized community meetings and discussions to voice their opposition and seek alternatives. They contend that the proposed camp could strain local resources and disrupt the stability of the area.

Mosley informed the angry crowd that he hadn't proposed utilizing the 115th Street site. He said the Mayor called him to discuss a using the vacant lot despite there already being plans for it that would benefit the neighborhood.

When asked about their opinion regarding the camp, shouts of, “No migrants in our community," resounded throughout the church and spread to the crowd outside.

The community has endured prolonged neglect, according to local residents. Consequently, their primary worry revolves around the allocation of city resources. They are less concerned about the migrants themselves and more focused on the city's use of resources for newcomers instead of addressing the needs of long-standing residents.

“There are a lot of people out here hurting that they could be helping, and there’s a lot of problems going on in this community they could be fixing,” Taylor said. “It feels like we’re being locked out of the situation, and that’s unfair.”

This developing situation has led to a broader conversation about migrant camps, their locations, and their implications for the neighborhoods that host them. As the debate intensifies, residents and local authorities are seeking a balanced resolution that takes the needs of the community into consideration when considering the placement of migrant tents.

The main concern for the neighborhood is lack of housing for permanent residents. The vacant plot at the intersection of 115th and Halsted was due to be redeveloped as Morgan Park Commons in the coming year. The 12 acre project would consis of a mixed-use development featuring affordable housing and retail spaces.

Funding for Morgan Park in the amount of $15 was already obtained in 2022, with support from the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus. Additionally, the Bringing Communities Back Initiative, which encompasses Morgan Park Commons, was recognized as a finalist for the prestigious Chicago Prize in 2022.

If a migrant tent camp were set up in the lot instead the community would likely miss out on a much needed development. However, Mosley said he does not to intend to stop moving forward on plans for Morgan Park Commons.

“I’m not in favor of delays to that development, and I’m still working to make sure we can break ground next year in 2024,” Mosley said. “We’re still on schedule. That’s what the 21st Ward is continuing to do.”

At the same time, he added that the decision about establishing migrant camps in the area, “is not one necessarily with the alderman.” It would be possible for the city to sign an agreement with one of the private owners of the lot over the objection of the residents and the alderman. Situations like this have already occured all over Chicago's South side, including Woodlawn, Kenmore, and Douglas.

Mosley pledged to keep fighting on behalf of the residents of the Ward in the hopes of preventing the city from repurposing the lot as a migrant camp.

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