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Avalon Betts-Gaston on supporting immigrants and the formerly incarcerated in Aurora, Illinois

January 27, 2024

“On a recent cold Saturday afternoon, folks gathered at the Aurora Public Library to brainstorm ideas on how to support migrants in the Chicagoland area.

“‘I mentioned having coats and medicine and things like that, that we’re kind of just sitting on,’ said Luma Webster, the host of the community meeting and executive director of Aurora Mutual Aid, formally known as Indivisible Aurora.

“‘They were meant for migrant arrivals that ended up not staying in Aurora,’ Webster said.

“She said over the last year, the organization collected items in the event that migrants were dropped off in the city. And while buses did arrive, asylum seekers were directed to Chicago.

“Attendees sat in groups discussing how to direct the resources collected, and whether the group would like to develop a plan for supporting migrants who arrive to the city.

We owe it to human beings, period, to make sure they have housing …

“Webster said she’d like Aurora to be an option for asylum seekers in need of housing. But doing so, she said, would require addressing housing challenges like rising rents in Aurora.

“She said affordable housing is unattainable ‘not just for migrants, but for lots and lots and lots of people.’

“According to Housing Action Illinois, there’s a statewide affordable housing shortage of nearly 300,000 units.

“She said the matter is urgent, since Chicago’s shelter policy for migrants limits stays to 60 days. According to reports, that rule goes into effect in February.

“To address housing, she suggest there be a focus on cooperative housing, and possible partnerships with landlords who can provide reduced rentals units with tenant protections. …

“The meeting also drew organizations like the Illinois Alliance for Reentry and Justice. Avalon Betts-Gaston [Leading with Conviction™ 2022], the group’s executive director, said they focus on issues related to people and their families entangled with the criminal legal system.

“‘There’s a lot of intersectionality between our work and the work of the migrant community,’ Betts-Gaston said, ‘because we as a society have actually decided for the most part to criminalize migrants and migration.’

“She said whether a migrant, a formerly incarcerated person or an individual with a mental health issue, a commonly shared challenge is housing.

“‘Until we say everybody doesn’t have to make money off housing,’ she said, ‘and that we owe it to human beings, period, to make sure they have housing, until we get to that place, we’re always going to just be band-aiding it.’”

Read the full story at NorthernPublicRadio.org.

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