State Watch

Durbin calls for investigation into Chicago shelter for Afghan children

Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) addresses reporters after the weekly policy luncheon on Tuesday, October 5, 2021.
Greg Nash

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) demanded an investigation into a Chicago homeless shelter that houses dozens of Afghan children. 

The U.S. Senate Majority Whip, who also serves as  Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, called on several federal agencies to look into allegations surrounding Heartland Alliance shelter in Chicago’s Bronzeville neighborhood.

ProPublica report published last week found that some of the children at the shelter had threatened staff, been hospitalized for psychiatric reasons, discussed suicidal thoughts, attempted to escape the shelter, and hurt themselves and others.

Durbin’s letters were sent Monday to the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) and Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

The senator said he was “deeply concerned” about the report and requested that the agencies take “immediate steps to ensure that the children at the Bronzeville center are receiving the support they need.” 

“We fully support Senator Dick Durbin’s call for an investigation of Afghan youth shelter operations,” Heartland Alliance said in a statement. 

The shelter’s statement added that it was “providing 24/7 safe and welcoming residential care that includes food, clothing, shelter, schooling, recreation and basic medical care” for the children in its care.

At the time of ProPublica’s report, 41 of the 55 children at the Bronzeville shelter were from Afghanistan. ProPublica noted that Heartland Alliance is currently sheltering more Afghan children than any other organization in the country.

Chicago police have been called to the shelter dozens of times in the weeks preceding the report for emergency medical services, suicide attempts or threats, batteries or assaults and mental health disturbances, according to ProPublica. 

Some of these issues were the consequence of a lack of culturally-sensitive support like translators and interpreters. Others resulted from inadequate mental health services, the report added.

Since August, over 900 Afghan children have entered the U.S. as unaccompanied minors. While the majority of these children have since reunited with family members, about 200, including those at the Bronzeville shelter, are still under the care of ORR. 

Tags Aghan children Chicago Dick Durbin heartland alliance Homeless shelter

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