Refugee center opened in Woodlawn sparks criticism and support from residents


Matt Petres

The refugee center opened by the city government at 6420 S. University Ave, in an abandoned public school, has caused mixed reactions in the community around the center.

Audrey Matei, Arts Editor

Once home to hundreds of students bustling from class to class, Woodlawn’s closed James Wadsworth Elementary School, 6420 S. University Ave., now serves a new and different purpose: 250 asylum-seeking migrants temporarily reside in the building despite some pushback from community members and South Siders. 

Regardless of the controversy surrounding the temporary shelter from concerned community members, support for the migrants has sprouted in the neighborhood.

After months of delays back and forth regarding the city’s plan to house in Woodlawn the migrants who were relocated from Texas, the temporary housing plan has finally come to fruition. At community proposal meetings, many Woodlawn residents expressed concerns over resource distribution and culture rifts with the arrival of the migrants. 

Despite some negative pushback, parts of the community welcome the migrants with open arms. The Chicago 4 All initiative is a newly launched program that aims to help ease the transition for the migrants through resources in Spanish and English and volunteering opportunities. Concord Missionary Baptist Church is a partnering local organization that hopes to help migrants through the new Home Away from Home Center which will offer a variety of resources.

Rev. Kenneth Phelps of Concord Missionary Baptist Church said that the mission of the partnership stretches beyond the bare minimum of basic support. 

“Our goal is to not only welcome them, but to empower them and to help them to integrate into our particular community because we believe that Woodlawn is a great place to live,” he said. “That’s why we also align with Chicago 4 all because we want to help change the narrative, so it’s just for us, a no brainer.”

He also said that despite the discourse, the response to the Chicago 4 All programs has been very supportive across the board. 

“In terms of the presence of the residents and the shelter, there are some legitimate reasons for everything, but from our perspective, you know, they’re here, they’re human, they need help,” he said. “The majority of the Woodland Community and Chicago at large, has been very, very supportive to our efforts as it relates to the Home Away from Home Center and the things that we’re doing as it relates to ministry to the migrants.”

Rev. Phelps wants Woodlawn residents to know that the programs reach beyond migrants and serve the entire community and hopefully bring together South Siders during a tough time. 

He said, “I think it’s important for the community to know that what we’re doing is not only just for the residents, but it’s for the community too.”