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NYC Scrambles to Find Space to House Migrants

The Mayor's office has been scouring the city for extra space as migrants continue to arrive

P.S. 188 in Coney Island temporarily sheltered some migrants in their school gym this week, though they were later moved out. Other NYC public schools across Brooklyn, including schools in Williamsburg, Crown Heights and Sunset Park, were being set up this week as temporary centers to receive migrants. Meanwhile, immigrant advocates condemned the use of shared spaces in school gyms to shelter migrants, saying that the conditions were not humane for even temporary shelter. 

Also Read: Hotel for Migrants is a Symbol of the Immigration Divide

This week, the Adams administration has added to their growing list of potential spaces for migrant shelter, with New York media reporting that the administration has considered: a jail on Rikers Island that was closed last year, the Queens Library, and various State University of New York (SUNY) facilities, among other places. On Thursday, the Adams administration transported some migrants to Sullivan County.

According to NYC officials, an average of 600 to 700 migrants are arriving per day in the city. 

“We are now turning to temporary alternative options like gyms and large open spaces for some relief. Let me be clear, this is not our preference for shelter but it is the only option that we have,” Anne Williams-Isom, deputy mayor for Health and Human Services, said at a City Hall news conference on Wednesday afternoon. 

The decision by the Adams administration to temporarily house asylum seekers in school gyms caused an uproar among parents who protested this week outside schools — sometimes with their children — expressing concerns about the safety of students and about a lack of space to house migrants at school gyms.

Some politicians urged New Yorkers to welcome asylum seekers, regardless of where they were housed.

Also Read: Biden Restricts Asylum as the City Organizes to Welcome New Migrants

“Just because we can’t do everything, doesn’t mean we can’t do something,” Brooklyn Borough President Antonio Reynoso said at a news conference at Borough Hall Wednesday morning. “We need to be leaders in the generosity, the kindness, the acceptance that we claim New York stands for.”

Reynoso suggested several proposals to house asylum seekers. He asked Gov. Kathy Hochul to exert state power in order to house asylum seekers in counties outside of the city, urged Mayor Adams to declare a state of emergency on homelessness, and encouraged the City Council to pass legislation that would allow the city to obtain vacant apartments for those experiencing homelessness. 

Williams-Isom said that New York City has spent $1 billion and anticipates spending $4.3 billion total through June of 2024 on resources for asylum seekers. More than 67,000 asylum seekers have come to the city since last spring, and over 41,500 are currently in the city’s care. To handle the demand, New York has had to open more than 150 emergency sites. 

As of Wednesday, over 4,300 asylum seekers had arrived here over the past week. The city is looking at “every single county” in New York to find shelter for asylum seekers, Williams-Isom said, and does not have many more hotels to tap to house migrants. She called the school sites short-term “respite” sites while the Adams administration looks for longer-term placements for asylum seekers. “We are in an emergency,” she said. “So we are putting all options on the table.”

In Staten Island, a now-shuttered school is being used as a temporary shelter facility for asylum seekers. Migrants there told Documented this week that inside the facility, dozens of cots are packed tightly together in school classrooms and gyms. 

Some migrants said they had to wait several hours to shower due to long lines and others said they had not been able to shower in several days since arriving at the facility. Asylum seekers also said there was no WiFi at the school, so they had to walk blocks away to find internet in other parts of Staten Island to communicate with their loved ones, and some shared that they still were wearing only the clothes they wore when they had arrived in New York City.

“They have everyone together,” said Franklin Moreno, a 29-year-old asylum seeker from Venezuela, who said he arrived at LaGuardia airport with his wife on a plane from Texas a few days ago. Though he was grateful for the city’s assistance, Moreno couldn’t make it to a construction job he had lined up in Manhattan because he didn’t know how to get there from Staten Island. And he was hoping to support himself soon, so he wouldn’t have to stay in a tight space with dozens of others. “How come they are putting everyone in one room?” he asked in Spanish. “There’s no privacy.”

Also Read: Migrants Struggle to Find Lawyers to Meet One Year Deadline to File for Asylum

Though Mayor Adams claimed this week that almost half of all hotel rooms in the city are now being used by asylum seekers, other city officials questioned the veracity of his statement, as reported by the New York Daily News

Ted Long, the senior vice president at NYC Health and Hospitals, who is helping to lead operations at the Humanitarian Emergency Response and Relief Centers (HERRCs), said that the City has vetted more than 500 shelter sites to date. The new arrival center for asylum seekers at the Roosevelt Hotel in Manhattan would be up and running as of Friday, Long said. 

And politicians across boroughs this week strengthened their calls for a robust federal response to the situation, which officials say is impacting every aspect of daily city operations.

Reynoso said that President Biden and Congress have “failed to show up with any sort of meaningful aid or meaningful leadership for the people who need the help, and the municipalities that are tasked with providing it.” He pointed to the city projecting spending billions of dollars in resources, while the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) only promised New York $30.5 million in funding.

On Wednesday at Borough Hall, Jumaane D. Williams, the New York City Public Advocate, called directly on President Biden to mobilize. “The President is missing in action. I don’t know if he’s asleep, on vacation — but it’s time to wake up,” Williams said. “Cities all across this country need your assistance right now, and you’re ignoring them. And you’re telling New York City to drop dead. That’s what you’re doing. Wake up, President Biden. Do something. Anything.”

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