Feb 6, 2024 - News

Chicago to merge migrant and homeless services

Photo of a tent in winter

Donated tents for the homeless to get through the winter in Humboldt Park. Photo: Jacek Boczarski/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Chicago is unifying services for migrants and homeless individuals under one system.

Why it matters: The colliding crises have fueled tensions citywide, but local officials hope a coordinated effort will optimize resources and recast the city's housing mission as more inclusive.

What's happening: City and state agencies that serve the two groups will meet over the next six months to hammer out how to integrate the existing systems, per a plan presented during the Council's Immigration and Refugee Rights Committee meeting last week. The merger will require:

  • Establishing new leadership structures and policies
  • Cross-training staff on new skills, including language skills
  • Determining how to manage the two funding streams

What they're saying: "We are leveraging this moment to build … a better system of care for all people experiencing homelessness, regardless of whether they have been homeless for five days or five years," Beatriz Ponce de León, deputy mayor for immigration, said at the meeting.

Context: For months, some alders and community members have accused Mayor Brandon Johnson of prioritizing migrants over longtime Chicagoans.

  • In a recent Tribune op-ed calling for Chicago to cancel hosting the Democratic National Convention without more federal housing support, State Rep. Kam Buckner suggested a similar plan to unify housing services for both groups.
  • "Calling this a migrant crisis creates the narrative of Chicagoans versus new arrivals and allows people to look past the humanitarian obligations that have already existed and run to their corners without listening," Buckner wrote.

Zoom out: Similar tensions are emerging in other cities that have received significant numbers of new arrivals.

What's next: Officials expect to start combining parts of the programs this summer and continue into 2025.

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