• Erin Hegarty
    SEP 22, 2023

    Contract details plans for migrant base camps expected to be built before winter hits

    The above shows an example of GardaWorld’s soft-sided shelters. [City of Chicago contract document] 

    With Chicago's inking of a nearly $29.4 million contract with GardaWorld last week to provide temporary housing for migrants, city officials are planning to move migrants currently housed at police district stations and O’Hare and Midway airports into the potential new shelters before temperatures drop. 

    The contract the city entered with GardaWorld Federal Services LLC piggybacks off a contract the state of Illinois already had with the company, according to city officials. Under the contract, the company will be responsible for building indoor and outdoor base camps that will house migrants in “yurt” structures indoors or soft-sided climate-controlled structures that would be constructed outside.   

    Crain’s was the first to report details of the contract Wednesday, noting GardaWorld was one of the companies used by Gov. Ron DeSantis to send migrants from Florida to states with Democratic leaders, according to reporting by the Tampa Bay Times.  

    City officials don’t have a specific timeline for when the so-called base camps would be built, but they will be running “in time for potential inclement weather,” Ronnie Reese, press secretary for Mayor Brandon Johnson, told The Daily Line. The city plans to prioritize moving people who are currently living at police stations and O’Hare and Midway airports into the basecamps.  

    Johnson has asked alderpersons to identify properties in their wards where migrant shelters could be built, but locations for the so-called base camps have not yet been selected, Reese said. No aspects of setting up the base camps will require approval from the City Council.  

    Still, a meeting of the City Council Committee on Immigrant and Refugee Rights is scheduled for next week, and Ald. Andre Vasquez (40), who chairs the committee, said he expects alderpersons will be able to ask questions about the contract during the meeting.   

    “I think there’s a lot of questions to ask,” Vasquez said. “These are all reports we want to dig into and get answers from the administration.”  

    While Vasquez is “aware and completely mindful of the fact that we’re in a crisis situation and the city government is trying to address a crisis,” he said he is concerned that the city is “spending $29 million to give to folks that we know have detained migrants and bussed migrants.”  

    Vasquez has also been a proponent of the city buying or leasing properties that are ready to house migrants and using the properties in other ways to benefit the public after they are no longer serving as migrant shelters.  

    The City Council last week granted the city permission to spend $1.5 million to purchase property on the city’s Northwest Side to house 550 migrants.  

    Related: Committee OKs purchase of North Side complex that could house 550 asylum seekers  

    Still, Vasquez sees a distinction between the way Johnson’s administration is handling the continued influx of migrants compared to how former Mayor Lori Lightfoot dealt with the crisis.   

    “We’re able to have these conversations and disagreements because we’re getting some information that none of us was getting before this administration,” Vasquez said.   

    According to the contract, GardaWorld could construct 665-square-foot yurts to portion off sleeping areas at indoor base camps. Each of the yurts would provide enough spaces for families of up to 12 people, according to the contract.  

    The yurts are described as a “lightweight framework” that can be set up by two people and allows for multiple yurts to be connected. Additionally, each yurt would include a fire extinguisher, smoke and carbon monoxide detectors and lighting.   

    Each of the yurts would include 12 sleeping cots that can each hold up to 500 pounds, complete with a pillow, blanket and a pillowcase. Each person using the shelter would have access to a storage locker to contain personal items and to help keep the space tidy. 

    A separate option for housing migrants would be outdoor, soft-sided, climate-controlled lodging structures that could be built in various sizes and configurations to sleep hundreds of people in one space or smaller groups of people in individualized sections, the contract shows. 

    The soft-sided structures would be temperature-controlled for hot and cold weather, according to the contract.  

    When it comes to heating and cooling of the structures within the base camps, HVAC systems would be able to cool temperatures down to 72 degrees from up to 95 degrees and heat structures from as low as 40 degrees up to 70 degrees. While the contract document only details heating plans for temperatures down to 40 degrees, Vasquez said he’s heard additional information on heat provisions since the contract was made public. 

    Sanitation tents could be built to include a hand wash station, restrooms, showers and laundry facilities, according to the contract. Kitchen trailers will incorporate tables, chairs and serving lines where meals will be provided. 

    The base camps would provide at least one toilet per 20 people or one toilet and one urinal per 25 male occupants, according to the contract. The bathrooms and hand-washing stations would be serviced and cleaned daily. GardaWorld is planning to provide one shower unit per 25 people. 

    Each person living in the base camps would be provided three meals per day including at least one hot meal per day. The daily continental breakfast would offer items like hard boiled eggs, bagels, doughnuts, assorted fruits and granola and coffee, juice and water. Daily lunches would include a sandwich and assorted fruits, vegetables and desserts.  

    A sample menu shows dinner — which includes a hot entrée, side, dessert and a bottle of water — could offer entrees including seasoned beef and chicken, chicken fajitas and pork chops with gravy. Vegetarian options would be available for lunch and dinner. 

    GardaWorld plans to provide each individual living in the basecamps with 64 oz. of bottled drinking water per day, which is in accordance with American Red Cross standards. 

    The contract does not detail specific waste removal plans but rather states the plans “will be assembled prior to site arrival and adjusted as needed in relation to camp size.” 

    GardaWorld’s security officers and supervisors “are seasoned veterans of crisis and disaster situations,” and are recruited from the military, law enforcement and security settings, according to the contract. Security workers for the base camps would not be armed.  

    Fencing for the base camps is set to include smaller barrier and enclosure fencing for privacy, walkway fencing, guard fencing and more. 

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