Proud but nervous. And more proud. That is our mix of emotions as Oak Park’s village government announced its plan to house and care for some 200 migrants over the next month.
These asylum-seekers, mostly from Venezuela, were welcomed into Oak Park by a blend of village government support and the uplifting, but never unexpected, swell of volunteer and faith-community support. While discussions had certainly been had, the arrival of the migrants from overflowing shelters on the West Side came quickly on Halloween night as temperatures dropped and the first snow of the winter fell.
Over the past week and until the end of this week, more than 100 people took shelter at Good Shepherd Lutheran. An empty commercial site housed another 50 individuals. United Lutheran and Calvary Memorial have since stepped up and welcomed migrants.
Now the village has worked to secure a more stable, if still short-term, solution. Tuesday evening the village board approved spending up to $370,000 over the next month to house and care for migrants. SRO rooms at the West Cook YMCA and hotel rooms at the Carleton will also be added as available. A range of wrap-around supports, including food and medical care, are funded.
Given Oak Park’s adjacency to Austin, which has been sheltering hundreds of migrants at the 15th District police station on Madison Street, and factoring in the grace-filled and determined efforts of so many Oak Park- and Forest Park-based volunteers, it was inevitable and essential that Oak Park take official action in support of these people in this humanitarian crisis.
That said, like Chicago, which is seeing its budget strained by its support of migrants, the support Oak Park offers cannot be open-ended and financial support from state and federal sources will have to be secured.
Plans to allow these asylum seekers to rapidly secure work permits is a partial answer. As so many migrants have told our Francia Garcia Hernandez in her reporting for our Austin Weekly News, these are people who want to work and are eager to support themselves. Speeding that opportunity is vital.
The generous support of nonprofits, volunteers and the faith community will remain core to this crisis. But those entities will simply be unable to cope and problem-solve without the capacity local government alone can provide.
Good for Village President Vicki Scaman for leading on this. Good for Village Manager Kevin Jackson for his responsiveness in leading his staff.
This is a moment to be proud of the Oak Park values that made this step inevitable.
And it is time to lean into those values even if there is some pain.