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NextImg:No, Mayor Johnson, tent cities won’t solve migrant crisis

The time for feel-good speeches, no matter how inspiring, is over.

Chicagoans deserve detailed answers to the hard questions raised on Thursday when Mayor Brandon Johnson rolled out the bare bones of a plan to house migrants in “winterized base camps” of massive tents, as he first told Sun-Times City Hall reporter Fran Spielman.

Let’s be blunt: Housing hundreds of migrants in tents — even high-quality, military-grade tents — as another Chicago winter approaches strikes us as a bad idea that could quickly go terribly wrong.

Police stations, where some 1,600 migrants are now housed, are no place for asylum seekers either. Nor is O’Hare Airport. But moving people to tents, during the months when crippling snowstorms and sub-zero temperatures are a constant threat, is just as bad, and arguably worse.

Housing families in tents, even temporarily, should be a last resort. Every other option must be exhausted first.

Editorial

Editorial

And if the mayor really is “moving with expediency” on the plan, as he told ABC7, and expects the public’s buy-in for his administration’s handling of this crisis, then Chicagoans have got to have answers — and quickly.

And there are plenty of outstanding questions. How much will the mayor’s plan cost, and where will the money come from? The mayor complained to Spielman about the “exorbitant” cost of a private staffing agency that is now providing services for migrants. But it’s hard to believe that buying massive tents and staffing them with contractors from another agency, or with city employees, will be less expensive.

If so, let’s see the numbers.

Devil in the details

How about food and sanitation services, and security for these “base camps?” Where will the tents be located? What’s the plan to get community buy-in, given the mixed reaction so far to housing migrants in existing shelters?

Most critically, has the Johnson administration fully explored the possibilities for housing asylum seekers in existing vacant or sparsely occupied buildings, whether owned by the city, by Cook County, or by private companies or individuals who might be willing to work with the city on this?

Those are just some of the questions Johnson has to expect, now that his idea — which alderpersons have yet to be fully briefed on, according to ABC7 — is public. Criticism and hard questions come with the territory for any big-city mayor.

The best we can say about the idea is this: The devil is in the details, which Chicagoans deserve before a single dollar is spent on what one alderperson told Block Club Chicago could end up looking like “refugee camps.”

It’s worth noting that New York City, which has received some 100,000 bused-in migrants, has tried the tent approach. One tent shelter for single adults opened last week; another tent shelter was opened last October but has since closed for lack of use.

Bring others to the table

The busloads of migrants who continue to arrive in Chicago daily, sent here mostly by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott in an ongoing political stunt, clearly represent an ongoing humanitarian crisis. And as this Editorial Board has noted before, Chicago cannot, and should not, handle it alone. No city or state should.

The Pritzker administration, to its credit, has put up $42.5 million for suburbs willing to take in asylum seekers, as part of a joint effort among the city, Cook County and the state to create a network of care for asylum seekers.

That idea sounds promising. So instead of using scarce resources on tent encampments, why not use the money instead to seed a fund that would pay for more such incentives — and thus help communities, whether in the suburbs or even downstate, that are willing to take in migrants as they await work permits and get on their feet?

Yes, that will take time, while more migrants arrive every day.

But as we suggested in a previous editorial, the mayor perhaps ought to pull together his team and other top civic leaders to create a plan for handling the migrant crisis.

With winter just months aways, surely there’s a better answer than tents.

Send letters to letters@suntimes.com