New year, same concerns. Mayor Eric Adams recently announced a new Humanitarian Emergency Response and Relief Center at the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal in Red Hook. And as with the two previous other adult male HERRC facilities, in Orchard Beach and Randall’s Island, the Legal Aid Society and the Coalition for Homeless nonprofits expressed concerns about flooding. Advocates from the two organizations released a joint statement criticizing the placement of the new shelter.
“Not only do we have concerns with the Humanitarian Emergency Response and Relief Center’s ability to comply with the city’s Right to Shelter obligations, but the forthcoming HERRC at the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal announced today is also in a high-risk flood zone, according to the city’s own maps, and will needlessly expose future residents to the elements during some of the coldest months of the year,” they said. “Hotels have always been the better short-term option, in contrast to erecting tents in inaccessible parts of New York City that are prone to flooding.
“Instead of wasting more taxpayer dollars on HERRCs and jeopardizing the safety of migrants in need of relief, the city must utilize existing voucher programs, such as CityFHEPS, to help homeless New Yorkers move into permanent housing, thereby allowing shelters to accommodate new entrants.”
The advocates are referring to the Department of City Planning’s Flood Hazard Mapper, which designates the facility’s address—72 Bowne St.—as being in an “A zone.” Properties in such an area are probably required to purchase flood insurance, according to the New York City official website. But unlike the two previous shelters, this one is in an insulated, indoor location. The Orchard Beach and Randall’s Island sites were often dubbed as “tent cities,” given the use of outdoor pavilion-like structures to house migrants. According to Adams, the new HERRC can house up to 1,000 asylum seekers.
“With more than 41,000 asylum seekers arriving in New York City since last spring and nearly 28,000 asylum seekers currently in our care, our city is at its breaking point,” he said. “We continue to surpass both our moral and legal obligations and meet the needs of people arriving in New York, but as the number of asylum seekers continues to grow, we are in serious need of support from both our state and federal governments.”
Concerns over the city’s ability to comply with the legal right to shelter stem from the system’s overcrowded conditions. Shelter populations hit an all-time high after the busing of asylum seekers to New York City from southern border states by officials like Texas Gov. Greg Abbott.
There’s also the matter of transportation. Both of the previously scrapped facilities were remote and far from public transit. Advocates like Theodore Moore, vice president of policy and programs at the New York Immigration Coalition (NYIC), fear much of the same for the new Red Hook location.
“By providing temporary housing at the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal, which is a half-hour walk away from the closest subway station, the city is cutting people off from integrating in New York,” he said by email. “This is a major reason why the HERCCs at Orchard Beach and Randall’s Island did not work. There are empty hotel rooms all over New York, and we encourage the CIty to continue utilizing these spaces as the best solution for temporary housing for asylum seekers.”
Last October, the Orchard Beach location was the city’s first veritable attempt at an HERRC, but along with flooding anxieties, there was concentrated Bronx community pushback, as well as backlash over contracting with a construction company that worked on ex-Pres. Donald Trump’s wall to keep the same such migrants from crossing the southern border into the U.S. The advocates’ concerns were realized when a weekend storm flooded the nearly completed shelter, prompting the city to move the facility to Randall’s Island before the first site could even open. The subsequent location was open for less than a month before closure.
When the Randall’s Island site was shut down, the NYIC commended Adams and the city for moving its residents to the Watson Hotel in midtown Manhattan.
This is the first northeast winter for many migrants, but Moore says an assortment of clothing and coat drives organized by council members like Speaker Adrienne Adams, along with borough presidents and grassroots organizations, is keeping the newcomers warm.
New York City officials are also pressuring the federal government for aid. This past Saturday, Adams held a rally to drum up support for asylum seekers.
Earlier in the week, Public Advocate Jumaane Williams also held an event calling for federal aid, in addition to promoting unity between newly arrived migrants and long-time residents who may feel slighted due to the attention and resources allocated to asylum seekers.
But Moore believes the biggest dividing factor is the Adams administration, who he believes is feigning a scarcity of resources while the city projects a fiscal year budget surplus of $2.2 billion, according to the State Comptroller’s Office.
“If the mayor is really concerned about New Yorkers, he would be allocating funds to ensure the health and safety of everyone who calls New York home, and the first step to support all New Yorkers is to ensure that every New York family can access affordable and stable housing, food, health coverage, a quality education, and—in the case of immigrant New Yorkers—access to legal services to keep their families together and to help asylum seekers get on the pathway to legalization and work permits,” Moore said.
“NYC is a sanctuary city because New Yorkers believe that immigrants are integral to our social, cultural and economic success, and New York is a Right to Shelter city because New Yorkers believe that every family experiencing hardship should have a chance to get on their feet with a roof over their heads. New York immigrants currently contribute over $60 billion annually in taxes.”
Tandy 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://bit.ly/amnews1.