Chicago officials ink nearly $30M contract with security firm to move migrants to winterized camps


CHICAGO (AP) — Chicago officials have signed a nearly $30 million contract with a private security firm to relocate migrants seeking asylum from police stations and the city’s two airports to winterized camps with massive tents before cold weather arrives, following the lead of New York City’s use of communal tents for migrants.

GardaWorld Federal Services and a subsidiary sealed the one-year $29.4 million deal with Chicago on Sept. 12. That was less than a week after Mayor Brandon Johnson announced plans to move about 1,600 migrants to a network of newly erected tent cities across the city. He said the relocations will occur “before the weather begins to shift and change.”

Many of those migrants have been living temporarily inside Chicago police stations or at O’Hare or Midway airports.

The contract with GardaWorld states that its purpose is “to allow the City to purchase from the State Contract temporary housing solutions and related services … to provide critical services to asylum seekers.”

It does not identify the specific sites for the camps and none have been chosen, said Johnson’s press secretary, Ronnie Reese. The contract also makes no mention of a specific timetable for erecting the tents.

“It’s got to be done pretty quickly if it’s gonna get done before the weather breaks,” Reese told the Chicago Sun-Times. “The goal is to decompress the police stations as soon as possible. We know that’s not sustainable.”

Earlier this month, Johnson’s team noted that Chicago’s migrant expenditures could reach $302 million by the end of the year when factoring in the costs of the new tent encampment sites.

Most of Chicago’s 14,000 migrants who have arrived seeking asylum since August 2022 have come from Texas, some under the direction of Republican Gov. Greg Abbott.

New York City, which has struggled to care for arriving migrants, has long used communal tents to temporarily shelter the thousands of the newly arrived. The city has more than 60,000 migrants now in its care, a growing number of them families with children.

The city has turned some hotels into temporary shelters, most of those rooms reserved for families.

The majority of the migrants have been single men, and the city has been giving them beds in huge tents.

Last month, the city opened its latest “tent city” outside a psychiatric hospital in Queens to accommodate about 1,000 migrants. New York City also erected tents on soccer fields on Randall’s Island in the East River. There are plans for another tent facility on federal land.

The tents on Randall’s Island are near where a previous tent structure was put up last fall, but closed weeks later after migrants objected to the living conditions there.

More than 110,000 migrants have arrived in New York City since last year to seek asylum, jobs and new lives. But many remain in limbo.

Chicago’s contract with GardaWorld reveals some specifics about the tents that will be used, including soft-material “yurt” structures that would each fit 12 cots and be outfitted with fire extinguishers and portable restrooms with makeshift kitchens to be set up nearby.

Questions remain, however, on the tents’ heating capabilities during the unforgiving Chicago winter.

GardaWorld signed a similar $125 million contract with the state of Illinois late last year, though so far very little has been paid out, the Chicago Tribune reported. ____

Associated Press writer Bobby Caina Calvan contributed from New York.

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