Oak Park awarded nearly $2M grant to assist asylum seekers

OAK PARK, Ill. - The village of Oak Park was awarded nearly $2 million through a grant program to help cities accommodate asylum seekers in their communities.

Supporting Municipalities for Asylum Seeker Services (SMASS) grants are managed by the Metropolitan Mayors Caucus and are funded by the Illinois Department of Human Services.

The Village Board unanimously authorized staff to apply for this new funding during its meeting on January 23 and the application was submitted the following day.

Oak Park has already received $400,000 in SMASS grant funding that has been used in combination with $650,000 in American Rescue Plan Act funding as lost revenue in the general fund allocated by the Village Board. That money has allowed Oak Park to operate its temporary shelter program for asylum-seeking migrants in the community since November 2023.

The village plans to give $1.24 million of the new award to a local nonprofit so that it may operate a new temporary shelter in Oak Park through the end of June 2024.

This new shelter will not be a part of the village’s current shelter program at the West Cook YMCA or The Carleton Hotel of Oak Park, as those sites are scheduled to be unavailable by the end of February.

The new shelter will be located in the former St. Edmund’s school building (200 S. Oak Park Ave.). The building is owned by the Archdiocese of Chicago.

Oak Park plans for $360,000 of the funding to be used for legal services to assist asylum seekers in their application process for asylum, temporary protected status, and/or employment authorization.

The village will dedicate $300,000 toward funding short-term rental assistance for asylum seekers and $40,000 for administrative expenses associated with assisting asylum seekers in Oak Park.

Funds awarded through the most recent SMASS grant must be used by June 30, 2024.

"This new funding builds on our commitment to support Illinois cities that are stepping up to help asylum seekers," said Governor JB Pritzker. "As we continue to call for further federal support, and as Illinois takes a stand against the callous ways Texas Gov. Abbott is using human beings as political pawns, these grants will lend support where it is needed throughout the state."

A total of $17 million is being made available exclusively to municipalities outside of Chicago to welcome and support recent arrivals living in their communities. Funds must be used to support asylum seekers within the applicant municipality and cannot be used to transport new arrivals to another municipality.