CHICAGO — Chicago plans to close five shelters for migrants in the coming weeks and move nearly 800 people, including families, in order to reopen park district buildings hosting popular summer camps, athletic contests and other community events in time for summer.

The shift is part of the city’s ongoing scramble to meet the needs of people arriving from the U.S. border with Mexico.

Advocates for the newly arrived have frequently criticized Mayor Brandon Johnson, a Democrat, and argued that the available services are inadequate. Others believe Chicago is unfairly prioritizing new arrivals over longtime residents, including unhoused people with similar needs.

Johnson announced the plan to close the park district shelters this week, saying they were “no longer necessary.”

“I am proud of the efforts of my administration, our partners, and the many Chicagoans who stepped up to welcome new arrivals by providing shelter in our Park District field houses at a time when this was clearly needed,” Johnson said in a statement Monday.

“We are grateful to the alderpersons and communities who have embraced new neighbors with open arms, and we are pleased that these park facilities will be transitioned back to their intended purpose in time for summer programming.”

Chicago has reported more than 37,000 migrants arriving to the city since 2022, when Texas Gov. Greg Abbott began sending buses of people to so-called sanctuary cities. Many migrants who land in Chicago come from Venezuela, where a social, political and economic crisis has pushed millions into poverty, and where three-quarters of residents live on less than $1.90 a day.

The city initially used police stations and airports as officials searched for other temporary shelters. Some residents of neighborhoods surrounding some of the park district fieldhouses have regularly protested their use as shelters since last summer.

On Friday, a city dashboard showed more than 10,000 people remain in city-run shelters. That’s down from a peak of nearly 15,000 in January.

The city has not specified when all the park buildings will be empty, only that it will take several weeks. Volunteers who work with migrants said residents of at least two of the park buildings were told they will begin moving to other shelters Saturday.

Nearly 20 other temporary shelters are still operating in the city, including churches, hotels, a library and former warehouses. The largest shelters are housing more than 1,000 people while others reported counts closer to 100, according to the city’s latest update this month.

The city is aiming to move people to other shelters closer to the park buildings, particularly families with children enrolled in nearby schools, Johnson’s statement said.

Chicago began enforcing a 60-day limit on shelter stays in mid-March. But many exemptions, including for families with children in school, have meant few people are actually being evicted yet.

The city has reported only 24 people leaving shelters so far because of the caps.

Other U.S. cities, including New York and Denver, have used similar shelter limits to cope with limited resource availability for migrants arriving by bus and plane. Mayors also have pleaded for more federal help.

In Chicago, people who are evicted can return to the city’s “landing zone” and reapply for shelter. Volunteers have said that sometimes means people leave a shelter and are sent back to the same location.

Volunteers who work with new arrivals said they understand the desire for neighborhoods to have park district facilities back, particularly for camps and other programs popular during summer months.

But they worry the forced move will upend migrants’ efforts to find work and get their children to school.

“Most people are actively, constantly trying to figure out how they get out of shelters,” volunteer Lydia Wong said. “I don’t know that this helps expedite it at all. The city is saying they want to keep people relatively close, but it’s extremely disruptive — needing to find new routes, new ways to get to school or work.”

Several people living in the park-based shelters told The Associated Press this week they had received little information about the city’s plan, including where they might be moved. They declined to give their names, with several saying they did not want to face any retaliation from employees of the private agency running the shelters.

As of Wednesday, the city said more than 15,000 people have found other housing since officials began keeping data in 2022.

Many have sought rental assistance provided by the state. More than 5,600 families have used the program to find housing, according to the Illinois Department of Human Services.

With a few exceptions like diplomats and people on tourist visas, immigrants in the U.S. must notify officials when they move.

Asylum seekers in the immigration court system have five days to do so after changing addresses, to ensure they receive notifications from the court. Missing mail might not sink their case directly, but failing to show up for a court date could lead to them being deported.

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Associated Press reporter Cedar Attanasio contributed from New York.



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