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Chicago Aldermen Push For Accountability Amid Complaints of Mistreatment at Migrant Shelters

By February 1, 2024February 13th, 2024Health, Immigration Policy

Aldermen called for a more transparent grievance process and accountability measures for Favorite Healthcare Staffing to ensure better treatment of migrants at shelters.

Sebastián Hidalgo for Borderless Magazine
A line to enter Chicago’s largest migrant shelter in Pilsen. Wednesday, December 20, 2023.
By February 1, 2024February 13th, 2024Health, Immigration Policy

Aldermen called for a more transparent grievance process and accountability measures for Favorite Healthcare Staffing to ensure better treatment of migrants at shelters.

The Chicago mayor’s office and Department of Family and Support Services (DFSS) fielded questions about the staffing company overseeing the migrant shelters, with aldermen concerned that complaints about mistreatment from staffers are being ignored.

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During Tuesday’s Committee on Immigrant and Refugee Rights, some city aldermen questioned the transparency and oversight of Favorite Healthcare Staffing, a Kansas-based healthcare staffing agency running the city’s nearly 30 migrant shelters. Aldermen worried there wasn’t enough oversight of the staffing company to ensure proper treatment of migrants at city-run shelters. 

“I just want to make sure that we are holding these individuals accountable,” said Ald. Ruth Cruz, whose ward spans portions of Belmont Cragin, Avondale and Portage Park. 

In recent months, the city-run shelter system has faced increased scrutiny after Borderless Magazine’s investigation detailed the inhumane shelter conditions in the Pilsen shelter and the death of five-year-old Jean Carlo Martinez Rivero. 

The city currently houses about 15,000 migrants across its shelter system. The Pilsen shelter is the largest in the city, accommodating roughly 2,500 people.

In December, migrants living at the Pilsen shelter detailed unsanitary bathrooms, cramped living conditions, harsh treatment, and threats of eviction from staff for recording or speaking with the media. They also described outbreaks of various illnesses — including chickenpox, the flu, and upper respiratory infections — spreading without sufficient medical attention. Last month, WTTW reported that the mayor and other city officials were warned about living conditions at the migrant shelter just weeks after opening. 

Since October 2022, Favorite Healthcare Staffing has received nearly $100 million in city funds to staff Chicago’s shelters. The city paid Favorite Healthcare Staffing $30 million last month, according to public records. 

At the meeting, Cruz was among a handful of aldermen calling for more accountability measures for the staffing company. “These individuals are being rewarded, [and] are being paid well,” Cruz said. “So the expectation is for them to deliver the service that they are expected to do.”

City officials told aldermen there was a grievance process to hold Favorite Healthcare Staffers accountable. Under the process, shelter residents may file “grievance reports” about shelter conditions when they experience mistreatment or have concerns about the facilities. Officials said these grievance reports can be found by scanning QR codes on fliers posted in shelters.

The reports are reviewed by a “staff grievance team” from the DFSS’ Emergency Operations Center. The reports are sometimes shared with Favorite Healthcare shelter managers, site captains, and DFSS project managers, said DFSS Managing Deputy Commissioner Maura McCauley.

But more than a dozen migrants previously expressed concerns to Borderless about publicly reporting grievances, speaking out against shelter conditions or mistreatment for fear of retaliation, being kicked out, or their complaints impacting their immigration cases.

According to DFSS, there have been an average of 55 formal grievances filed each day in January, with the most common grievance reports filed by residents related to staff complaints.

Ald. Maria Hadden, whose ward covers Rogers Park and a portion of West Ridge, said her constituents had brought concerns to her office regarding Favorite staffers’ treatment of migrants and the confusion surrounding the grievance process.

“We are getting, what I feel like, are pretty common complaints — and a lot of it is around treatment,” Hadden said. “In my ward, in one shelter in particular, the main shelter manager is the subject of much concern.”

She questioned the city’s supervision of Favorite staffers and their decision to outsource the responsibility of shelter management to shelter providers such as Favorite Healthcare Staffing rather than other city officials.

“I know in the Favorite structure, we’re their client,” Hadden said. “We should be able to remove whoever we want.” 

DFSS Commissioner Brandie Knazze defended the operations, explaining that if they see a need to do so, the department can remove Favorite staffers based on grievance reports or behavior that is “not becoming of someone that we would want on our team.” 

The department meets with Favorite’s corporate branch monthly to discuss accountability for staffers who break the rules or don’t follow protocol, DFSS officials said.

Knazze noted that when concerns are raised about staffers, DFSS and Favorite’s corporate branch can take steps to “retrain” and “coach” staffers.

“We don’t expect zero incidents or grievances, especially with 15,000 residents and over 1,000 staff,” McCauley added. “But we do expect and uphold ourselves to a process that is responsive.”

Knazze said the city looks to transition away from Favorite Healthcare Staffing and toward a system where community organizations run shelters. However, no timeline was discussed during the committee meeting.

But even with the city’s desire to transition to community-run shelters, Hadden said a more transparent grievance process system is necessary.

“We just really would need a very solid grievance process. There’s a lot of confusion,” Hadden added.