CHICAGO — When we heard that entire migrant families were living in the lobby of a downtown Chicago police station, we were skeptical. After all, the press conferences, news reports, and political back-and-forth about the influx of migrants died down long ago. It seemed like the city had everything well in hand. But apparently not.
Walk into the Central (1st) District station in the South Loop at night and you’ll see children sleeping on blankets on the floor with no pillows and, often, their shoes still on. Most of the adults sleep on the window ledges atop the building’s heating and air conditioning vents, but a couple curl up on benches outside the two lobby restroom doors, each of which sports a paper sign that limits users to five minutes.
During the day, random shoes litter the police station lobby from end to end. Some of the younger children are understandably restless and energetic. They run across the police station with an adult in hot pursuit. The families grab bottled water and food from a small table set up in the lobby — salads for lunch, snacks.
On a recent afternoon, we counted six adults and eight children in the lobby. There were many more at night.
“It has been months. Currently, there are 28 migrants camping out … with no showers and one men’s room and one female bathroom,” said an officer who frequents the district station.
Families have lived there “for days and even weeks,” the officer said.
“People who want to report crimes and walk into the police station are met with minimal space, nauseating smells, and children running, sleeping, and playing throughout the entire lobby.”
A CWBChicago reporter and a freelancer visited the station several times recently. We can confirm the conditions are as the officer described them, although the smells were hit-and-miss.
We asked the mayor’s office and CPD about the situation on Monday.
In a statement, city officials said they are “working to coordinate safe passage for all new arrivals.”
“When asylum seekers arrive at city facilities like Chicago Police Districts, a shelter placement request is immediately made through 3-1-1. Once the request is made, the city works with community partners to transport the individuals and families to a shelter once space is available,” said the city’s statement.
“This humanitarian crisis remains fluid, we have been working tirelessly to connect new arrivals with much needed assistance and support. We will continue to work with our local and community leaders to support those in need.”
But the officer we spoke to said the situation at the Central District station has been going on since February, and “no one seems to care.”
Update April 4: On Monday afternoon, several hours after CWB Chicago asked the mayor’s office and CPD about the situation, the Salvation Army relocated the families.