A group of Edgewater residents Thursday demanded the city pause its plan to house migrants at Broadway Armory Park next week until they can sit down with the mayor and come up with a “win-win” solution that doesn’t include interrupting programs for residents at the facility.
The group, calling themselves the Save Our Broadway Armory Park Coalition, held a rally outside the armory, at 5917 N. Broadway, ahead of a community meeting on the plan. Concerned residents held up signs reading “Don’t displace us” and chanted “Save our park.”
Pat Sharkey, a member of the coalition and of the Edgewater North Neighbors Block Club, said the facility should be kept open for residents and for Chicago Park District programs and be used as a welcome center for the migrants, providing a place where they can play sports and receive other support services.
“This has been the heart of Edgewater for many, many years, and it has been built and grown and turned into something that is magnificent,” Sharkey said. “All the existing residents, all the new arrivals they need a place like this. To go to where programs can be provided, where we can be a welcoming hub for the new arrivals. Get their kids in some of these programs. Let’s start doing this a smart way.”
In a letter to the community Tuesday, the Chicago Park District informed residents that the city will begin using the building to provide temporary shelter for asylum-seekers on Aug. 1. To start, 250 people will be staying at the armory’s gym, but that number could rise to 350.
The shelter will be in place for six months, at which point there will be an evaluation as to whether it is still needed, city officials said.
As a result, some park programming, such as gymnastics and the Girls P.L.A.Y. Sports Camp, will be temporarily moved from the armory to alternate locations. Day camp programs will continue to run through their scheduled last day of the session Aug. 4, but participants will be taken on field trips for their final days. The fitness center inside the armory will be closed starting Saturday.
The park district said all other summer programs at Broadway Armory Park will be moved to a new location or will have their last day on Friday.
Jackelope Theatre, which has staging plays at the armory since 2013, say it has canceled its scheduled world premiere of the play “Pretty Shahid” as a result of the plan to turn the site into a shelter.
Organizers of the rally said the facility provides critical programming for more than 1,000 users, especially after-school camps and teen sports. It also provides a space where hot meals can be served for seniors and those who are food insecure, they said.
Ginger Williams of Edgewater Village Chicago, which runs a program for older adults in the facility, said moving those resources to other locations in the city is not feasible.
“The city’s plan of moving the park programs to other facilities is based on the faulty assumption that the city can just move us around like chess pieces,” Williams said. “I believe that few of this park’s program will actually work out in other park locations. We are begging Rosa Escareño, the head of the Chicago Park District, and Mayor Brandon Johnson not to lock the doors.”
During a presentation at the standing-room-only community meeting, city officials, including Escareño and Beatriz Ponce de León, the deputy mayor for immigrant, migrant and refugee rights, attempted to illustrate the dire need for facilities like the Broadway Armory that are equipped to house the asylum-seekers.
Since last August, more than 11,500 migrants have arrived in Chicago, according to the latest figures from the city, and about 50 are arriving in the city, on average, every day. There are over 5,400 new arrivals housed in 13 city shelters, including more than 1,400 minors. Over 950 are being housed at police stations and at O’Hare and Midway airports. The city is still in need of more than 1,500 beds.
The Broadway Armory Park was one of five locations the city considered turning into shelters in response to the steady stream of asylum-seekers.
“This community is a rich community of multiple identities and ethnicities, people who love their community. It is hard for us to repurpose space, but this is the time we’re living in right now,” Ponce de León said, drawing some cheers and boos from the crowd.
“We appreciate the businesses and organizations that have been helping us explore alternatives to programming.” Ald. Leni Manaa-Hoppenworth told her constituents at the meeting. “The 48th Ward is a welcoming community, and we have a moral responsibility to respond to this humanitarian crisis and we will answer with love, community and compassion because that is who we are.”
Many residents expressed support for the asylum-seekers and their plight during the question-and-answer portion of the meeting, but they also said they wished the city had been more transparent with them about its plan. They also asked officials why the city didn’t rent more hotel rooms instead of taking up park spaces.
One longtime resident said this was a chance for the community to step up and uphold its reputation as a welcoming neighborhood.
“I think this is an opportunity for this community to show some compassion,” the resident said.