September 27, 2022

NYC Mayor Adams to open refugee-style camps to house deluge of asylum seekers

Mayor Adams announced in a press release Thursday that the city plans to house asylum seekers in temporary, refugee-style camps — a move that further illustrates the huge strain a recent influx of migrants has put on the city’s shelter system.

Through an email put out by his press office, Adams’ team described the camps as “humanitarian emergency response and relief centers” and pointed to past examples of such centers through pictures depicting tents filled with rows and rows of cots.

The first relief center will open at Orchard Beach — presumably in the huge parking lot there — in the coming weeks. The location of a second center has not yet been determined.

“While other leaders have abdicated their moral duty to support arriving asylum seekers, New York City refuses to do so,” Adams said in a written statement. “This emergency response represents what we know must be done during this humanitarian crisis, as we continue to seek assistance from our federal and state partners to continue this work.”

The new centers will offer shelter, food, medical care and other services.

For months now, Adams and his administration have been struggling to house and care for a steady stream of migrants from Latin America seeking asylum in the United States. The vast majority of them are coming on buses directed by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, who has seized on that practice as a way of criticizing President Biden’s border policy.

Adams has slammed Abbott’s behavior and that of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who sent planeloads of migrants to Martha’s Vineyard, as a “political stunt,” but the rhetoric on both sides has done little to address the actual needs of the asylum seekers — one of whom recently committed suicide.

The fact that Adams announced his new policy of relief centers through a press release is notable. The creation of the centers is the first time a government has set up free-standing temporary emergency housing in the city in years — probably since Quonset huts were used to house veterans and their families after World War II.

“This is completely unprecedented,” said Catherine Trapani, executive director at Homeless Services United. “We don’t do refugee camps in New York City.”

Rep. Ritchie Torres (D-N.Y.) voiced support for Adams, though, noting that “the response is unprecedented because the situation is unprecedented.”

“There’s no playbook for what’s happening,” he said. “The federal government is nowhere to be found. New York urgently needs the help of FEMA.”

According to a spokesperson for Adams, the mayor didn’t announce the move at a press conference — where he’d be subject to questions from reporters — due to plans to meet with President Biden later in the day.

The need for the camps not only lays bare the recent strain felt by the city’s Department of Homeless Services, but also highlights the city’s struggle to create more affordable housing as rents continue to spike.

“New York City continues to do a pretty bad job of moving people to shelters into housing,” said Sam Stein, a housing policy analyst with the Community Service Society. “We need to improve that in order to have more room in the shelter system for when something like this happens.”

The Legal Aid Society and the Coalition for the Homeless also raised concerns about Adams’ announcement.

“We are deeply concerned with any scenario in which families with children would be relegated to congregate settings,” the groups said in a joint statement. “This practice, which has been widely condemned for its adverse and dangerous impact on this uniquely vulnerable population, is already subject to legal prohibitions.”

Both groups have slammed Adams in recent weeks for his administration’s failure to adhere to the state’s right to shelter laws, which require that shelter be provided to anyone seeking it within a timely manner. Adams and his team have pushed back that while they have not met the time requirements in some cases, they have eventually provided shelter to those seeking it.

It is still unclear how long the city will house asylum seekers in the relief camps it plans to erect. City officials said that asylum seekers “who do not or cannot find immediate housing will stay at humanitarian relief centers for approximately 24 to 96 hours,” but also noted that timeframe is “subject to change depending on the situation.”

Another descriptor provided by the administration on Thursday was “temporary.”

“These centers will provide services such as wellness checks and temporary shelter when individuals and families first come to the city,” Zach Iscol, Adams’ emergency management commissioner, said in a written statement.

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