Over the weekend, a fight broke out near the 1,163-resident migrant shelter at the former Standard Club, 320 S. Plymouth Court. It was one of several brawls that have erupted at shelters across the city.
Most of the shelters are in residential neighborhoods dominated by small businesses. And the friction between business owners who complain the loitering migrants are destroying their businesses, residents who feel unsafe, and the migrants stuffed into shelters could blow wide open at any time.
Chicago alderman sounds the alarm over an increase in prostitution, drug sales, and fights at migrant shelters in the city. Stores near the shelters say they've seen more instances of shoplifting. pic.twitter.com/61O2lZESVs
— Julio Rosas (@Julio_Rosas11) August 21, 2023
“I don’t think any of us care that there is a shelter there. It is the fact that there are zero attempts to control the situation and we don’t feel safe here,” said Brandon Vulpitta, the owner of Brando’s Speakeasy, a popular karaoke bar near the shelter on Plymouth Court. “Our clients don’t feel safe anymore.”
Though crime stats don’t show a marked difference in and around the areas of high-volume shelters from prior years, the violent altercations and migrants engaging in lewd activity at Pritzker Park, kitty-corner from the shelter on Jackson and Plymouth, are ever present, said George Liakopoulos, owner of several restaurants in the city, including the Plymouth Restaurant & Rooftop Bar, which sits right in front of the shelter.
Most nights, large groups of migrants sit and stand while drinking at the park and harassing female passersby, a scene that he says discourages his patrons from visiting the restaurant, which is known for its location and its unique view of the city. The number of visitors at the restaurant, which is open from 4 p.m. to midnight daily, has drastically decreased, going from 400 to 500 on Thursdays and Fridays in the summer of 2022 to roughly 150 now.
“We want to help and understand the humanitarian crisis but this behavior makes it extremely difficult,” Liakopoulos said. “It’s a big hit. Not just to me, but our employees, (who include) a lot of mothers who depend on this job to feed their family.”
Meanwhile, other shelters are, if anything, more dangerous. Alderman Brendan Reilly of the 42nd ward wrote a letter to Mayor Brandon Johnson about the intolerable behavior of some of the migrants. He says “Hundreds of his constituents and local business owners contacted his office to express their worries, including dirty sidewalks and witnessing migrants engage in physical altercations outside of the shelter.”
“I am sympathetic to the new arrivals’ situation and support Chicago being a Welcoming City; however, these are serious concerns that need to be addressed immediately,” Reilly wrote in the June letter.
And that’s the problem. Johnson whines about the lack of federal dollars and assistance, but the truth is, there isn’t much to be done except make room for the new arrivals by finding shelters for them and wait for Washington to take the problem off the city’s hands.
Maria has been staying at the Inn of Chicago, one of the largest migrant shelters in the city, for several months. Recently, she said, the shelter’s staff held a meeting to warn migrants that if the littering, fighting and congregating did not stop, they could be forced out.
But “some people don’t care; they leave their garbage everywhere, they fight inside and outside the shelter. It’s concerning to us because we don’t want to get kicked out of (the shelter) while we find an apartment to rent,” said Maria, a single mother from Venezuela, who didn’t want to give her last name because she feared repercussions.
“We supposedly came here to become better, to progress,” she said. But allegations of drug use and violent altercations inside and outside shelters are “unfortunately, are true,” she said. “We see it.”
Why would anyone be surprised when thousands of migrants arriving from countries they left because of criminal gang violence and corruption end up engaging in violence and corruption?
It’s a no-brainer that even a Chicago politician should have been able to figure out.