Watson Hotel Credit: Tandy Lau photo

The city’s migrant housing situation is in terminal decline—a Brooklyn Cruise Terminal decline, to be exact. Men sheltered at a Hell’s Kitchen hotel collectively opposed the Adams administration’s decision to move them to the new Red Hook facility. 

“[Yesterday] there was a stand-off between asylum seekers and the police at the Watson Hotel because they refused to reside in another temporary shelter that put them further away from the services they need to access to get on the road to self-sufficiency,” said New York Immigration Coalition (NYIC) Executive Director Murad Awawdeh on Jan. 30. 

“Rather than creating more unsuitable, temporary shelters, the city must support residents by moving them into permanent housing, especially those that have been stuck in our shelter system for years. New York City needs bold solutions to its affordable housing and supportive housing crisis, not half-measures that ultimately hurt the very people they are trying to help,” Awawdeh added.

Migrant housing concerns stem from southern border officials like Texas Gov. Greg Abbott chartering buses of asylum seekers to major cities like New York. The placement of the fifth Humanitarian Emergency Response and Relief Center (HERRC) in Red Hook’s Brooklyn Cruise Terminal was announced recently and opposed by immigration advocates from the NYIC, the Legal Aid Society, and the Coalition for the Homeless due to concerns of flooding and distance from public transit. Those issues plagued the first two single men’s HERRCs, leading to the use of the Watson Hotel to house male asylum seekers. But now the city wants to use the building to shelter migrant families.

“This weekend, we began the process of moving single adult men from the Watson Hotel to Brooklyn Cruise Terminal, as we transition the hotel to meet the large number of asylum-seeking families with children,” said Mayor’s Office press secretary Fabien Levy in an email statement. “More than 42,000 asylum seekers have arrived in New York City since last spring and we continue to surpass our moral obligations as we provide asylum seekers with shelter, food, health care, education, and a host of other services.”

This past Monday, migrant men outside the Watson Hotel told the Amsterdam News a move to Brooklyn—especially in Red Hook—would make it harder for them to hold down their jobs. A long line of bikes were parked outside the shelter, with former residents cycling in and out from their delivery app jobs as they await the city’s response to their holdout. Venezuelan migrant Rúben Fonseca said many of the shelter’s residents recently found jobs in Manhattan and are stressed about getting to work on time if they’re relocated.
“Sending us to Brooklyn though, we understand that as a problem because we are here to work and to get ahead and to become independent, not to live here off of the government and from whatever it gives us,” he said in Spanish. “So now they want to send us to where, well, we call it a tent, where in each room there are 300 people sleeping and the beds are hospital-type beds.”

Fonseca added migrant men are concerned about the cold at the Red Hook facility despite the city’s claims of a heated, temperature-controlled structure. He said many are not used to the frigid New York City winter, with some suffering from pneumonia since arriving. 

David Ramirez, another Venezuelan migrant, said each resident was initially assigned their own space at the Watson Hotel, although they began sharing rooms as more asylum seekers were moved in later on. A video of the Red Hook facility was shared to reporters showing rows of cots without privacy or partition. 

Residents on certain floors—like Ramirez—said they are still allowed to reenter the Watson Hotel, but many will soon be locked out. A significant number of the facility’s staff are bilingual and can communicate with Spanish-speaking residents, including many African migrant men. 

“The problem [with being in Brooklyn] is it would take 25 minutes getting here…some have just arrived here and just gotten jobs,” said Ramirez in Spanish. “We want to be able to take care of ourselves, we want to work, the opportunity to work. These are all things that would jeopardize our efforts to work towards freeing ourselves from being dependent on others. It’s not that Brooklyn is so terrible, but what we don’t see is that we would be able to continue to work towards making ourselves independent if we were out there.”

Police were called to the Watson Hotel on Sunday during the standoff due to disruption from outside groups, according to the city. But both Fonseca and Ramirez said the movement was organized by the migrant men themselves, electing representatives to speak on their behalf. The local activists present denied involvement and interference outside of translation services and mutual aid. 

Despite the standoff, the migrant men expressed their gratitude to both the city and its residents.

“So far they have really treated us very special, we have a lot of support, that is why they are coming––they are arriving now,” said Fonseca. “There are neighbors from here, from the Manhattan community, who are supporting us, bringing food, meals, supplies. Everyone is very attentive to us in that regard.”

“I want to thank the people of the state of New York because they have helped us tremendously,” added Ramirez. “They’ve assisted us when in other places we did not get that. But personally, I am a person who wants to work. I can’t walk very much and they say that at the site in Brooklyn I would have to walk at least half and hour to 25 minutes to get to anywhere”
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.

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