The city is struggling to get a real hold on the migrant humanitarian crisis that’s seen over 17,000 people since April bussed to New York City’s doorstep. Though everyone agrees there needs to be more long-term housing solutions, once again the mayor, city council, and advocates are split on a plan of action.

So far the city has opened 42 hotels as emergency shelters and enrolled over 5,500 children in public schools. For months, organizations like the Legal Aid Society and New York Immigration Coalition (NYIC) have been on the ground meeting people as they arrive at Port Authority bus station and working to connect them with legal services, housing, toys for kids, food and water, and COVID testing and health care.

NYIC Senior Director of Advocacy Abdullah Younus said the flow of people is expected up until and through the midterm elections which definitely constitutes a ‘crisis.’ He said there’s at least 8 to 12 buses of people arriving every single day. 

“These buses arrive and people are just being dumped like produce basically at Port Authority,” said Younus. 

Speaker Adrienne Adams, Deputy Speaker Diana Ayala, and others expressed major concerns about the city’s plan to relocate its Humanitarian Emergency Response and Relief Center from Orchard Beach to Randall’s Island. The capacity in the “tent city” was reduced from 1,000 cot-like beds to 500 in an area that many complained is prone to flooding.

Councilmembers noted that winter is on the horizon and a temporary housing environment would be difficult to live in surrounded by water on the East River. 

“These tent camps they’re trying to set up on Randall’s Island don’t meet requirements. They’re not safe. They’re not warm. They’re also located in a completely inaccessible place,” said Younus.

Younus said that there’s a rich history of refugees settling into cities upstate, like Utica, N.Y. But more coordination is needed between all government authorities. 

Councilmembers urged Mayor Adams to consider indoor locations to more “humanely” provide emergency relief and intake services to people seeking asylum. They suggested 10 large-scale hotels in Manhattan that are currently closed and might have better space for people. They said there are over 70 additional closed hotels, such as the Gramercy Park Hotel, that could be converted to supportive housing.

“While an emergency relief center providing more effective intake services for asylum seekers than the Port Authority makes sense, neither outdoor locations of Orchard Beach nor Randall’s Island are adequate,” said Speaker Adams. “There are better options that New York City should explore to provide healthier and safer conditions for people who have already experienced so much trauma.”

Assemblymember Jessica González-Rojas along with Senators Jessica Ramos and Gustavo Rivera and Councilmember Shahana Hanif jointly penned a letter to Mayor Adams adding that he should move away from the Randall’s Island idea. They suggested using union hotel rooms, the Jacob Javits Center, and working to decrease the average length of shelter stays in the city.

On Oct. 7, Mayor Eric Adams declared the situation an official state of emergency that would require state and federal help. It included an emergency executive order to construct the city’s relief centers. The city projects costs of more than $1 billion to support asylum seekers that need “expedited work permits, a national decompression strategy, and a resettlement strategy”  in the coming months, said the mayor.

“This is a humanitarian crisis that started with violence and instability in South America, and it is being accelerated by American political dynamics,” said Mayor Adams. “Thousands of asylum seekers have been bused into New York City and simply dropped off without notice, coordination of care and more are arriving every day. This crisis is not of our own making, but one that will affect everyone in this city, now and in the months ahead.”

Adams said it’s “not lost on” him that cities that Republicans are bussing people to are all under Black leadership. New York City, Washington, D.C., and Chicago all have Black mayors.

The announcement was made shortly after there was backlash to the mayor’s relocation plan for the relief centers.

Younus said the mayor’s declaration is a “great step” but the reality is that the city hadn’t invested in the shelter system in decades.

City council also wanted to implement solutions to reduce the lengthy stays in its homeless shelters that have historically strained the system. They’re urging for more permanent affordable housing. For the first time, Adams acknowledged the suggestion and concurred. 

“Our city is grappling with a homelessness crisis exacerbated by an international emergency that we did not create but demands effective and compassionate responses,” said Speaker Adams. 

Additional reporting contributed by Tandy Lau. 

Lau is a Report for America corps member and writes about public safety for the Amsterdam News. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep him writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by visiting: https://tinyurl.com/fcszwj8w

Ariama C. Long is a Report for America corps member and writes about culture and politics in New York City for The Amsterdam News. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep her writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by visiting: https://tinyurl.com/fcszwj8w

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