Oak Park village trustees passed an emergency declaration Thursday that gives manager Kevin Jackson the spending authority to address immediate needs for the growing migrant crisis in the area.
The declaration will be reviewed Dec. 4. Until then, Jackson has the authority to purchase food, transportation or other items for asylum-seeking migrants, volunteers or the Oak Park church that has been housing dozens of people since Tuesday night. It will also permit him to more easily manage logistics, such as reallocating staff to help with tasks like trash collection without interrupting everyday village operations.
“We’ve had no option but to react,” said village President Vicki Scaman before the meeting.
Board members deliberated for little more than an hour on the motion. The vote was unanimous, with trustee Brian Straw absent.
Trustee Lucia Robinson said she was concerned about placing a strain on the staff, particularly during budget season. “Budget season” is typically a high-pressure time for village officials. She also asked whether
Trustee Ravi Parakkat said the fact that migrants were brought to the village, requiring them to respond felt like an “ambush.”
“I do not have the mandate to divert local taxpayer dollars or village resources away from community services on a problem that cannot be solved locally,” he said.
“These are families,” Scaman later responded. “These are small children who are coloring right now and sleeping on the floor. No one asked for this to happen and here’s where we’re at,” she said.
Parakkat countered that as long as they used money already budgeted for assistance, but not more than that, then he could support the motion.
Early this month, the village was awarded a $150,000 grant to plan how to act as a pass-through for future funds to partner with local agencies that provide services to migrants and unhoused people. The village matched that grant with American Rescue Plan Act funds, so the amount available for the emergency response is $300,000.
Volunteers began bringing refugees, most of them from Venezuela, to Oak Park’s village hall Tuesday night after temperatures plummeted and snow pummeled the area. O’Hare International Airport recorded .9 inches of snow, only the third time the area had measurable snowfall on Halloween since recordkeeping began in the 19th Century, NWS records showed.
As the night unfolded, volunteers brought about 50 people from Chicago’s 15th District police station in Austin at about 10:30 p.m., worried that because they were sleeping outside, they’d risk suffering from exposure.
However, the lobby at Oak Park’s police station, located at the village hall, was too small to hold the growing number of families gathered there.
Scaman said at about 1 a.m., she called the pastor at her church, Good Shepherd Lutheran, for help. The congregation opened its doors. Good Shepherd is now sheltering at more than 100 people. A second location, the Wild Onion Tied House, is holding about 50 more people. Volunteers, officials said, coordinated that effort, and estimate about 200 migrants are staying in Oak Park.
She said that she and Danielle Walker, the village’s chief officer of diversity, equity and inclusion, and other volunteers stayed with the refugees overnight – Scaman left at about 8:30 p.m. Wednesday – to transport them back to their camps in Chicago to retrieve items, to take some individuals to the hospital and to run other errands.
Others from the community helped as well, she said. Nurses from the village’s health department helped treat low-grade fevers and other ailments. Rush Oak Park did an “amazing” job helping those with more serious injuries, such a broken ankle from a fall, she said. The township provided translation services. Community volunteers served food and dropped off sleeping bags and socks and other items.
“Pastor Kathy [Nolte] stepped up big time,” Scaman said.
Scaman explained that money spent under the emergency orders will be used only for purchasing items or reimbursing some individuals.
There are no new initiatives for addressing the migrant crisis in the works, she said.
Oak Park will continue with its plans to work to find housing for them and for unhoused people, she said.
“For us, it’s more about us as a community helping people to get to permanent housing and stability,” she said. And they’ll work within the system and partnerships they’ve already established to do that.
For Oak Park, which borders Austin, it was merely a matter of time before officials faced addressing the migrant crisis. Hundreds of migrants stay at Chicago’s 15th District police station on Madison just east of Austin Boulevard. Because Oak Park is a welcoming city, many had questioned why the village had not taken action.
Estimates show that at least 20,000 migrants are seeking refuge in Chicago, most of them bused in from Texas by Gov. Greg Abbott. They have been sleeping at O’Hare or police stations, and Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson has proposed using winterized tents or other structures as shelter.
Good Shepherd is seeking volunteers to help with donations and other matters. The congregation no longer is looking for direct donations. For those with questions or for more information, contact associate pastor Kerstin Hedlund at firstname.lastname@example.org.