Chicago, IL

Illinois Gov. Requested Migrant Tent Camp Proposals Before Newly Elected Chicago Mayor Took Office

Natalie Frank, Ph.D.

Governor Pritzker allocates $65M for Chicago migrant tent camps: Revealing state Involvement in tent housing solution

Governor J.B. Pritzker has announced a substantial allocation of $65 million by the state to facilitate the establishment of tent encampments for migrants in Chicago before the onset of winter. This decision comes mere months after the second-term Democrat distanced himself from a similar concept introduced by Mayor Brandon Johnson.

Contrary to previous indications, state documents reveal that the idea of housing migrants in tents originated within Governor Pritzker's administration. Investigations show that as early as mid-May, well before the surge in migrant arrivals and Mayor Johnson's subsequent announcement in September, the Illinois Emergency Management Agency sought proposals for shelter options, including "outdoor (soft sided)" solutions.

The state contract, finalized in July with the controversial contractor GardaWorld Federal Services, aimed to address the urgent need for temporary housing. The $65 million funding is part of a broader initiative, including an additional $95 million for a centralized intake center and other services to aid migrants in transitioning to more permanent housing and employment.

As the state steps in with significant financial backing for the tent encampment, both city and state policies are concurrently restricting shelter stays and phasing out rental assistance for asylum-seekers. GardaWorld's contract outlines specifications for a turnkey basecamp, equipped with fabric structures and various foundation options.

The Pritzker administration, despite emphasizing the city's driving role in the shelter effort, recently acknowledged the collaborative effort behind the inclusion of tent-like structures in the May bid solicitation. Governor Pritzker's preference for brick-and-mortar shelters was initially underscored by concerns about winter weather. However, as winter approaches, the administration argues that soft shelter sites offer better accommodations, providing asylum-seekers access to essential services and a path to independence.

While an improvement from camping tents, questions loom over the winter viability of the structures provided by GardaWorld. Equipped with heating and air conditioning, the structures are designed to provide heat up to 70 degrees, raising concerns given Chicago's often harsh winter conditions.

Details about the timeline of the state's involvement in the tent plan remain undisclosed by the Johnson administration. The city has been collaborating with the state on base camp plans, utilizing the existing contract with GardaWorld to ensure migrants are moved from police station and airport floors to secure interim congregate housing.

As the state actively engages in financing tent encampments, the narrative surrounding the Pritzker administration's involvement in the city's shelter plan takes on a contradictory tone. Despite attempts to minimize their role, the administration's active participation raises questions about the evolving dynamics of addressing the ongoing migrant crisis.


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