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DHS Transfers Migrant Families Out of Shelters With 24 to 48 Hour Notice

New York City has abruptly started distributing transfer notices to migrant families with children staying in some shelters, telling them that they must pack up and leave, sometimes with just a 24 hour notice, migrants said.

New York City has abruptly started transferring migrant families with children staying in some Department of Homeless Services family shelters, giving them short notice that they must quickly pack up and leave their current homes.

The news of the transfers spread quickly at one family shelter on the border of Park Slope and Gowanus this week. According to interviews with several migrant families, the shelter’s staff told them on Tuesday that in about 24 to 48 hours, they would need to gather their years’ worth of belongings and leave the shelter. Multiple migrant families living there said they were told they were being transferred the very next day, and felt pushed to sign paperwork agreeing to the transfer.

Some families were able to fend off their departure date. Others were scared of the repercussions if they stayed, so they acquiesced and carried their children onto a yellow school bus that was waiting to take them to a hotel shelter on Wednesday evening.

“My children, they feel bad,” said Angelica, a 29-year-old mother of two girls from Angola, who had to leave the family shelter on Wednesday, and only shared her first name for privacy reasons. Her oldest daughter, who is 11, attends school right in front of the shelter. Speaking in a mix of Spanish and Portuguese, she said that they couldn’t properly prepare for the transfer. “Now, we will be far,” she said.

The family shelter where Angelica lived is part of the DHS system and is operated by Win, the city’s largest provider of family shelter and supportive housing, according to the organization’s website

Migrants transferred out of the Win Park Slope shelters this week and last are being moved to other DHS-operated sites, so they are not facing the 60-day limit for families living in some shelters outside of DHS, the city’s Department of Social Services (DSS) confirmed. Still, migrant families said the quick turnaround time to leave their current home was distressing, especially for many who had lived there for one to two years.

About two weeks ago, Win started receiving a list of clients who the city wanted to transfer out of the shelters and into hotels for migrants (still in the DHS system), said Christine Quinn, Win’s president and CEO. The city expressed said it wanted to have units specifically for migrants, Quinn said, and were planning for a summer surge in arrivals, so it needed to create vacancies in certain shelters, like those operated by Win.

“We were obviously very concerned about this,” Quinn said in a phone interview on Thursday. “It would be incredibly upending.”

Over the next few weeks, Win worked on moving their clients off the transfer lists, she said. Some reasoning that seemed successful for them included migrants obtaining work papers, soon moving to housing outside the shelter system, or children being enrolled in special education curricula at school.

In total, about 75 migrant families with children in the Win system were notified they would be moved to other DHS hotel shelters in recent days and weeks — but after conversations with families, Win, and the city, the large majority have now been taken off those transfer lists, according to Quinn.

Still, Quinn is worried that these quick transfers could keep happening, and that the city will simply move on to transfer other families not on the initial lists. “I don’t see this stopping,” Quinn said. “I think they’ll [the city] come back to us with other people.”

About five or six families have ultimately been moved out of Win shelters in the past few days, Quinn said, with roughly 48-hour notices. But migrants at the Park Slope shelter told Documented that their families sometimes received even shorter advance notification than that.

Neha Sharma, the spokesperson for DSS, said in a statement to Documented that DHS “sanctuary” sites were “better positioned” to connect asylum seeker families to legal and other services for building their lives in New York. “DHS is collaborating with the other agencies involved in the asylum seeker response to expand and strengthen those specialized services, and co-locating families is essential to ensure they have access,” Sharma said. The city was continuing to invest in “critical resources” with little assistance from the federal government, she said.

“This is a willful misrepresentation of the agency’s efforts to provide supports for all New Yorkers, including asylum seekers, in need,” Sharma said in the statement. “We hope Chris Quinn joins us in calling on the federal government to provide critical funding for asylum seekers instead of finding ways to mis-portray the city’s efforts to ensure we are delivering for all New Yorkers in need.”

In response to the statement from DSS, a spokesperson for Win said that the organization’s policy team has taken four trips to Washington D.C. in the past year to advocate for more funding and support for migrants.

On Tuesday morning, Angelica, the mother from Angola, said a social worker knocked on their door and, along with other staff, soon informed the family that they would have less than 48 hours to leave the facility. The family had been at the shelter for about two years, and on Wednesday, they then had to cram their belongings into multiple trash bags, placing them into shopping carts splayed out on the sidewalk. They hurried out of the building in the evening as Angelica’s 2-year-old daughter cried constantly, watching her father pack all the family’s possessions onto the yellow school bus. “I don’t know why this decision was made,” Angelica said. 

Yenifer Perez and her son Victor picking up the rest of their belongings at the Park Slope Win shelter after they were transferred to a shelter in Queens last week. Photo: Giulia McDonnell Nieto del Rio for Documented

Josh Goldfein, a staff attorney with The Legal Aid Society’s Homeless Rights Project, said that it appeared that the transfers of migrant families out of their current shelters with little notice may have been ongoing for some time within the DHS system, but has certainly ramped up in the past few days. Goldfein said he received several calls on Tuesday evening about the short-notice transfers of families with children across the city. Families are, in most cases, supposed to receive 48 hours’ notice for these transfers, but “frequently, they don’t,” Goldfein said. 

Advocates have said that if a transfer is marked as “administrative,” which is meant to be reserved for emergencies, the city can get around the policy that requires the city to give 48 hours’ notice before a shelter transfer

Goldfein suggested that the city should instead focus on working with the families to find longer-term housing. “It makes more sense to keep people stable in the place that they are,” Goldfein said, “rather than shuffling them around within the city.”

For several hours on Wednesday, a group of about 15 migrant mothers, several of whom had received transfer notices, stood outside the shelter while they coordinated with community members and mutual aid groups to figure out their next steps. Some held signs that said “Migrants welcome,” and “Stop the immigrant family transfers.”

Migrant parents said they did not want to subject their children, who ranged from babies to older teenagers, to a sudden move with only about seven weeks left in the school year. Several had been at the shelter for a year, sometimes two, and had found it challenging to find stable work to lease an apartment on their own. The family shelters on 4th Avenue and 14th Street had useful kitchens, and many of the children went to school directly across the street, or only a few blocks away. Their children, parents said, had established relationships with their friends and neighbors in the area. 

Deicy Lara, who is from Colombia, said she has been living at the shelter for about two years, and that her two girls, ages 5 and 9, went to P.S. 124 Silas B. Dutcher, across the street. On Tuesday afternoon, with just over a 24 hour notice, shelter staff informed her that she would have to leave the shelter Wednesday, she said. 

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“They called me and told me that today at 4 p.m. I would have to have all my things outside because I would have transferred to a hotel,” she said. She spent all night on Tuesday frantically looking up apartments online, crushed by disappointment as she was reminded by all the requirements she needed to rent. Then, after initially refusing to sign the transfer paperwork, she was able to fend off her transfer for a few more days after the initial notification, she said on Thursday.

The document that some of the shelter residents were given on Tuesday was labeled a “Facility Transfer, Reassignment, or Referral Notice,” according to several copies of the original paperwork migrants shared with Documented. The transfer, the documents said, is “due to…DHS operational needs.”

Maria Marin, whose children go to P.S. 124 across the street from the Win shelter and volunteers with Gowanus Mutual Aid, said that shelter staff told her the transfers were “an order that came from the mayor,” and that “they can’t intervene.” Marin, 45, is close with the families, and immediately started receiving messages from them about the impending transfers this week, she said. 

Quinn, in the interview, stressed that Win didn’t “have any authority or ability to just ignore the transfers.” She said Win was “fighting incredibly hard” so that the families in their care would not be transferred. “It’s a very upsetting situation,” she said. Quinn had not experienced transfers in the DHS system happening so rapidly, on this scale, in her more than eight years at Win, she added. “This is not something that has happened.”

For Yenifer Perez, 41, the transfer out of the Win family shelter came earlier than many of  the families. Last week, her family was sent to a hotel shelter near LaGuardia airport in Queens, with a roughly 24- hour notice to leave after two years in the Win shelter, Perez said.

On Wednesday, Perez was back outside the shelter to pick up some of her belongings that friends had kept there for her. In their new shelter in Queens, they don’t have a kitchen, and all their community that they built during their years in New York feels distant. “It’s difficult, for all the families this change is difficult,” Perez, from Venezuela, said. “That was my biggest fear — to move far away from this area. They should move us to the same zone, in Brooklyn. But they left us so far out.”

And now, it takes her son Victor, 17, and his 16-year-old brother, more than an hour to get to school in Sunset Park every morning. The pair wakes up at 5 a.m. to start the commute early, and still sometimes arrive late to class. “The truth is,” Victor said. “I had to adapt because I don’t have an option.”

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