District 22 Police Department Welcomes New Neighbors 

By Sebastiana Smith  

As you walk into the 22nd District Police Department, your attention is immediately drawn to the left where asylum-seekers have been living since April. 

Last year vulnerable migrants began to arrive in Chicago, with minimal access to housing the city began to place people in police stations temporarily. A major challenge for the 22nd District has been space, according to Sergeant Kelly Fenton. While other police stations have community rooms available to function as temporary housing, the 22nd District community room is used to host Drivers Ed.  

“They’ve literally been sleeping in the lobby which is hard for citizens coming in to make reports, that’s hard for officers who are maybe dealing with arrestees that we’re bringing in and out. It’s been challenging to just find the space for them so that they feel comfortable…” said Sgt. Fenton. Although the lobby doesn’t offer much privacy it makes it impossible for the people to be ignored.  

Outside of local support, preparation in the 22nd District has been described as very independent. In April a school bus arrived in front of the police station with 12 migrants, but that number would soon increase to a total of 39 people being housed in the lobby of the police station. Though unexpected, with no time to prep and no working plan to reference, the station adapted as quickly as possible. They have heavily relied on the support of community volunteers and nonprofit organizations like the 19th Ward Mutual Aid and ShowerUp, an organization that provides mobile showers and personal care.  

Even with an outpour of support, there are challenges to navigate.  

To keep order, the 22nd District created a homemade info sheet that requires each person to fill out a form that asks for their name, date of birth, required medication, dietary needs, and what country they were from.  Since people have traveled from different countries, language barriers presented a unique challenge.  

“They’re using their mobile phones and their translators on the phone to talk to each other, but it’s not really good. I personally speak Spanish, so I like to go out there a lot to translate, but some people speak French, so we use the app, but I don’t think it’s accurate, what they’re trying to communicate,” said Officer Irma Calzada, Social Media Officer at the 22nd District. 

“We are very fortunate in 22 to have a large group of community members that want to reach out and help,” Sgt. Fenton said. One organization in particular, 19th Ward Mutual Aid, has gone above and beyond to help asylum-seekers and provide support to the 22nd District. 

Tim Noonan founded 19th Ward Mutual Aid to assist local families that suffered finical hardship during the COVID-19 pandemic. Their priority was to make sure “That our neighbors that are here, stayed our neighbors,” Noonan said.  

As the need for the free store slowly declined, they ended it, but their mission to help remained, and the opportunity remerged when groups of new neighbors seeking asylum began to arrive. With the help of generous donations, 19th Ward Mutual Aid has been able to provide food, air mattresses, air pumps, and strollers for migrants. After doctors and nurses visited the station to provide needed care, the 19th Ward Mutual Aid purchased all necessary prescriptions and over-the-counter drugs. 

Noonan also played a role in organizing neighborhood support via Whatsapp where a meal train was formed to feed asylum-seekers for breakfast, lunch, and dinner at the 22nd District. 

Turpin Cares, a local not-for-profit organization that supports neighbors in need through a variety of programs, installed a community pantry box across the street from the 22nd District Police Station when the pandemic hit. They recently installed a second box to distribute toiletries and other migrant necessities such as diapers, underwear, socks, and baby wipes. They are collecting donations to help fund needed items for 19th Ward Mutual Aid, and to stock the emergency boxes. Locals may also add donations directly to the boxes.  

Officer Calzada describes the community support to be, “Very good and resourceful; it’s been like an outpouring of support for the people. It’s been very welcoming.” 

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