Why New York’s best won’t be enough to solve the migrant crisis

Since the governors of Texas and Florida began sending migrants north in acts of political theater last spring, New York City has received nearly 44,000 asylum seekers, more than the population of SoHo and TriBeCa combined. According to the town hall, there have been 12,000 new arrivals in the last month alone. While New York has welcomed large numbers of immigrants into its ecosystem every year for centuries – there are more than three million foreign-born people now living in the city, responsible for almost a quarter of the gross domestic product of the city – it has not faced a situation where so many people have arrived in such rapid order without the traditional routes of integration.

Typically, someone moving to the city from the Dominican Republic or West Africa may land with ties to a religious group, or to friends and family already established here; there’s probably a network that can connect you to a job and a room in a crowded basement in Queens or the Bronx. But so many people have arrived here by perverse chance in recent months. Whether they ended up in New York against their will or because of desperate and hasty departures, they don’t have the kind of plans that come with a more deliberate relocation.

This is unprecedented territory. The fact that over 40,000 immigrants come to the city in a short period of time isn’t the problem, as one city official told me, it’s that so many immediately enter the system. shelter already overloaded.

The depth and severity of the crisis, unfolding amidst the city’s housing emergencies, cannot be overstated – it is as if two natural disasters are occurring simultaneously. When Eric Adams took office as mayor in January last year, before the influx of migrants from the border began, there were around 45,000 people in the shelter system; that figure has since risen 71% to 77,000. Beyond its scale, the migrant crisis is notable for its relative obscurity for so many New Yorkers, who encounter homelessness in their daily lives with uncomfortable regularity. , but who have not had as much direct experience with the latest wave of immigrants.

The problem has become clearer in recent days, as the city has been criticized for moving several hundred people from a hotel in Midtown, where it was housing asylum seekers, to the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal, a building of 180,000 square feet. on the Red Hook waterfront. The idea was to prioritize hotel space for families with children by moving single men into a communal setting, a practice the city is seeing more widely with its shelter system. The terminal was vacant and would not return to official use until the cruise season resumed in the spring.

Activists were quick to object, citing similarities to a “detention center”; the city blamed them for annoying occupants of the hotel that was to be relocated, some of whom slept outside in protest rather than move to the new rescue center until police swept the camp on Wednesday evening. The terminal had 1,000 cribs, next to each other, an efficient use of space that offered no privacy. The dividers, imagined city comptroller Brad Lander, would be difficult to fit in, simply because the beds are placed so close together that it would be impossible to move around the bed in such an enclosure.

But the ongoing housing disasters have put the city in a constant mode of sorting and improvisation. Relying on hotels is neither ideal nor economically logical, but actual shelter space is almost incredibly limited. In September, the city reported that the length of stay for a family with children in shelters increased to an average of 534 days in fiscal year 2022, from 520 days the year before and 414 days in 2017. In a different scenario, there would be a large flow out of the system, leaving it free to accommodate new entrants. The city has already opened 82 emergency shelters since the beginning of the arrival of asylum seekers and enabled the transformation of four large hotels into reception centres. Building a new shelter takes an average of two years.

Although the city did not allow members of the press to enter the Red Hook facility, Wednesday afternoon it began offering visits to various politicians in an effort to quiet the noise. Among the first visitors were Brooklyn Borough President Antonio Reynoso and several city council members who spoke to a small group of reporters as they walked out. They noted that, contrary to earlier claims, the building was in fact hot, although the men staying there had to walk outside to take showers in mobile units, as propane heating units could not be used. installed in the terminal itself.

Councilor Shahana Hanif was the first to worry about the lack of privacy, and she and her colleagues wished the administration would do more to ease the anxieties of men who weren’t sure what the move would mean. Red Hook. After so many of them had suffered so much trauma on their long journeys, often on foot to the border, they harbored a reasonable fear of being taken to a place from which they would eventually be expelled. But the facility was safe, Mr. Reynoso said. There had been no reports of the kinds of crimes that plague men’s shelters and often deter sleeping there.

On the same day, Governor Kathy Hochul allocated $1 billion to the state budget for the migrant crisis. Mr. Lander pointed out that while this was a definite plus, the federal immigration system needed to speed up work authorizations, which were significantly backlogged. “A lot of it is a group of people who want to work,” he told me. They can’t do it without the proper papers.

But even immediate access to employment will not necessarily translate into housing solutions. “New York City has already done more than almost any other city in the country to support this influx of asylum seekers, but our resources are limited and we need support,” wrote Fabien Levy, spokesperson for the mayor’s office, in an email. . “If corrective action is not taken quickly, we may very well be forced to scale back or reduce the programs that New Yorkers rely on. These are not choices we want to make, but they may become necessary, and we need to be honest with New Yorkers about what we are up against.


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