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Worries Surface as New Arrivals in Chicago Scavenge for Food, Face Hygiene Challenges, and Await Shelter

Concerns Raised as New Chicago Migrants Dig Through Garbage for Food, Lack Showers, Wait for Shelter

In Chicago, the provision of warming buses by the city has led to hundreds of recently arrived migrants residing in them. They have not undergone showering routines for several days, and many are grappling with hunger and cold-related illnesses.

Each night, approximately 324 migrants seek refuge in eight warming buses located at the Office of Emergency Management’s “landing zone” in the West Loop.

Some engaged in activities like tossing a football and running for warmth. In contrast, others resorted to scavenging for food, resorting to extreme measures in the absence of provided meals, as expressed by 30-year-old Robinson Mendez from Valencia, Venezuela.

Migrants go without showers, dig for food in trash at city's 'landing zone' as they wait for shelter


A group of migrants, as indicated by Mendez, discovered three boxes of sandwiches in the trash and hastily consumed the food. Clad in matching navy USA soccer jackets and beanies, they, like Mendez, lacked support in the United States.

The escalating numbers of arriving migrants, coupled with 27 designated shelter buildings operating at full capacity, have led to overflow onto buses located in the city’s “landing zone”—a parking lot managed by OEMC officials. This arrangement began in December after the city repurposed police stations, which previously housed migrants awaiting indoor space.

However, experts and advocates raise concerns about whether these buses meet the criteria for humane shelters according to international standards.

Elliott Young, a professor at Lewis and Clark College in Portland, Oregon, specializing in transnational migration, refugees, and asylum-seeking populations, expressed uncertainty about whether warming buses meet the criteria for suitable shelter spaces as defined by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

“While being in warming buses is better than being out on the street, it is incumbent on the city of Chicago to find more dignified living spaces,” remarked Young.

Annie Gomberg, a volunteer who previously provided resources to migrants at the Austin District (15th) police station, observed the parking lot in the West Loop on Sunday. Migrants informed her that they had been residing on the buses for days without proper nutrition and the ability to shower.

City opens temporary shelter for asylum seekers in Woodlawn despite effort to block bus moving them - Chicago Sun-Times

ShowerUp, an organization that provides mobile shower facilities to people living outside, was contacted by Gomberg.

The shower event, organized by Gomberg through contacts with OEMC and Favorite Staffing, the city’s largest contractor responding to the increasing migrant numbers bused from southern border states, was scheduled for Wednesday.

However, when ShowerUp arrived with their mobile shower unit, OEMC officials at the landing zone claimed they lacked a place to plug it in or a water hookup. As a result, they left, leaving migrants, many still clad in the gray sweatpants and T-shirts provided at detention centers in Texas, unable to take hot showers.

Migrants at the loading zone, as described by Gomberg, are desperate, rushing for packets of oatmeal and Nutri-Grain bars distributed by volunteers. Until Wednesday, they reportedly received only one meal a day.

A row of blue portable toilets serves as bathrooms for the hundreds of people present. However, lacking running water, migrants claimed they still hadn’t been adequately fed as of Wednesday.

They spend their entire day on buses to keep warm and sleep sitting up through the night.

According to a statement from OEMC spokesperson Mary May, the city did not receive any coordination from volunteer groups regarding the plan to provide showers for the people.

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