Evanston advocates ask community to step up to support Venezuelan refugees


Photo courtesy of Luisette Kraal

Some Evanston and Chicago community members are working to support refugees from Venezuela in the city.

Aviva Bechky, City Editor

Kristin Huzar recently became a host for a family of immigrants from Venezuela.

She said she’s happy to house them as long as she can. But the overarching support system for refugees from Venezuela in the Chicago area is simply insufficient, Huzar said.

“We don’t have the interest. We don’t have the infrastructure for this,” Huzar said. “The Chicago area doesn’t have systems put in place. They’re kind of building the plane while they’re trying to fly it.”

Over 3,500 immigrants have arrived in the Chicago area as part of Texas’ Operation Lone Star campaign. Under Operation Lone Star, which civil rights groups like the Immigrant Legal Resource Center have called xenophobic and racist, Texas has bused over 16,000 migrants from the state to sanctuary cities elsewhere, including Chicago.

In Evanston and the surrounding area, advocates have worked to provide food, clothing and housing for new arrivals, but say there isn’t enough support or community awareness.

Carlos, who asked to use his first name only out of fear of retaliation, came to Chicago from Texas in October. 

He said he’d like to see a better community-wide and governmental understanding of what immigrants need — particularly when it comes to stable employment and long-term housing. Nevertheless, he’s glad to have access to resources from groups like Park Community Church in Rogers Park.

“I’d like others to receive this type of help,” Carlos said in Spanish.

At Park Community Church, Luisette Kraal, the pastor’s wife, helps coordinate efforts to help refugees.

In addition to clothing, Kraal said the church is hoping people will donate old electronics and hot food. They’ve set up a free store where people can grab the resources they need. 

“It’s very organic. Very, very organic,” Kraal said. “I don’t know where (volunteers) come from. They joined us so we are (at) like 40, almost 50 people now in our group. And a lot of them are from Evanston.”

But though the church received some local assistance, Kraal and Huzar both said the Evanston community seems to be largely unaware of the local need. 

When Huzar posted in a Facebook group for help, “so many people” immediately brought over groceries and gift cards — showing her people are willing to contribute if they hear about what’s happening.

“It’s not right in front of them,” Huzar said. “They aren’t going out of their way to do research.”

She’d like to see the city volunteer to house at least 10 more families, Huzar said. Especially because Evanston is a fairly affluent community, she said, people should be able to donate.

Lee Ann Silva, an Evanston-based volunteer, said she would encourage people to connect with groups like Refugee Community Connection that are already supporting refugees in the area.

“We’re just here trying to help the people that we can help in very specific and concrete ways,” Silva said. “You know, you need boots. Let’s get you some boots. You need to get to the doctor. Here’s three clinics that can help.”

From fundraising to transportation to translating to working on free stores, Silva said volunteers can choose to step up in a variety of ways.

But the onus should truly fall on local government leaders, Silva and Huzar said, who should be working to find more affordable housing for refugees.

“More often than not, when the crisis is not in your backyard, it’s easy to overlook what’s going on,” Silva said. “As a city, how are we responding publicly to this crisis? I haven’t seen much.”

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @avivabechky

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