Resort hotel

Shelters a last resort for asylum seekers who have struggled to find accommodation

After getting a queue number from the Department of Homeless Services family drop-in center in the Bronx, known as PATH, Natalia and Yohan went out with their 5-year-old daughter, bought wings from chicken and fries at a nearby bodega and nibbled on them in front of the town building.

The family, who asked only to be identified by their first names, arrived in New York six months ago, fleeing Colombia after a relative’s involvement with the wrong crowd landed them in prison and left Natalia and Yohan in fear for their own lives.

The couple and their daughter live with four other members of their extended family, who also recently emigrated to the country, in Natalia’s uncle’s one-bedroom apartment in Kew Gardens, Queens.

They have been looking in vain for their own apartment since their arrival, while their asylum application is in progress. All the while, the uncle lived in fear of losing his home for allowing too many people to live with him.

“For us it’s because we haven’t found a home,” Yohan said in Spanish, explaining why they were looking to enter a homeless shelter. “We have the money. But, more than that, we need papers.

Now Natalia and Yohan, who work in cleaning and construction, turn to the city’s homeless shelter system, arriving at the Prevention and Temporary Housing Assistance office with a padded duffel bag ready to spend the night in one of the city’s shelters. They hope the city, which is party to legal agreements establishing a right to shelterwill not only provide them with temporary shelter, but will also help them find permanent accommodation.

Asylum seekers have come under the spotlight recently, with Mayor Eric Adams naming them the main driving force behind the growing demand for beds in the city’s housing system, and even to accuse the governors of Arizona and Texas to send them en masse to New York. (In fact, Governors Doug Ducey and Greg Abbott had targeted Washington, D.C.)

Monday, Adams declared an emergency allowing him to bypass the usual bidding process so that the town hall could hire a non-profit provider to run what he called an asylum referral center. Commissioner of Social Services Gary Jenkins declared that the city received 100 new applications a day and said 4,000 asylum seekers had applied for beds at a city-run shelter since late May.

This followed a letter declaring the urgency which Jenkins sent on July 29 to Comptroller Brad Lander and company attorney Sylvia Hinds-Radix, “based on recent trends in the movement of asylum-seeking families and individuals to the northeast United States, particularly the city of New York” and requesting the authorization of these officials for the city to open “one or more accommodation structures for asylum seekers.

But interviews at PATH suggest it’s not just newcomers who are turning to city shelters after being directed to New York by border officials or aid groups.

The PATH family shelter in the South Bronx, January 27, 2022.

An unknown number of those applying to the city’s housing system have been New Yorkers for months or more, living double or triple with friends or relatives while struggling to gain a foothold in the city’s expensive housing market. town.

Blur the rooms

On Tuesday, a spokesperson for City Hall sent an email in response to questions from THE CITY stating that the 4,000 figure was an “estimate…based on a comprehensive analysis of self-reported information customers provide to intake, which also helps to inform our capacity needs assessment and forecast. tendencies.”

“Because we do not ask about the immigration status of people in our reception centers during the self-declaration process, we use a variety of information provided by our clients to determine whether they are applying for asylum” , said the spokesperson.

City Hall, the Legal Aid Society and the Coalition for the Homeless all agree that the current bed capacity available in family shelters began to dwindle in May and is now extremely low.

There is, however, disagreement as to what causes this. Coalition policy director Shelly Nortz questioned the focus on providing shelter specifically for asylum seekers only, given that multiple factors are driving the increase in number of applicants.

“We continue to be concerned about the lack of planning in this regard,” she said. “There are several factors that affect the census. Asylum seekers are one of many factors, and no one has been able to quantify it. It is certainly not the only factor. »

She and others said other issues were at play, including an increased number of evictions after the pandemic eviction moratorium ended and the usual spike in families asking for shelter that happens every summer.

The town hall is also new return to the much-criticized practice of placing homeless people in hotels. During the pandemic, the Department of Homeless Services relied on otherwise empty hotels to get people out of crowded group shelters, but stopped last fall and began transferring homeless people to city-run shelters.

In June, for example, DHS told the coalition that a hotel in Queens that the department intended to stop using would continue to accept families. Some 200 units are now back online.

There is no one way to NYC

Several narratives have emerged to explain the recent wave of asylum seekers entering the city’s accommodation system. Some organizations, including Catholic Charities of New York and the New York Immigration Coalition, said they were listed as sponsors by asylum seekers under the direction of federal officials at the border.

Murad Awawdeh, executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition, said his organization has received summonses for families seeking asylum.

“Personally, I don’t think people would name Catholic Charities or New York Immigration Coalition. I think it was just CBP,” Awawdeh said, referring to Federal Customs and Border Patrol.

Mario Russell, director of Immigrant and Refugee Services for Catholic Charities New York, expressed a similar view in a recent interview: “What I’m talking about here is a bit like the feds asking their agents to put these addresses of administrative offices of Catholic Charities Charities, this happens at the federal level. And that needs to be looked at immediately.

Volunteers from Catholic Charities help refugees from Central America in McAllen, Texas on August 17, 2017.

Vic Hinterlang/Shutterstock

Customs and Border Patrol did not respond to questions from THE CITY.

None of the four asylum-seeking families THE CITY spoke to at the PATH reception center said they were referred to NYC by Border Patrol agents. Two flew to the United States directly to New York with a sponsor – a family member or friend willing to host the migrant.

Like Natalia and Yohan, a second family, also arriving from Colombia, said they were asking for shelter because of their precarious housing situation in New York.

The other two families were allowed to enter the country through the border after fleeing Venezuela, neither with a sponsor. Venezuelans are strongly represented among newcomers, in part due to recent federal immigration policies.

Beginning in 2020, the federal government under former President Donald Trump began turning asylum seekers back at the border, citing the public emergency caused by the pandemic, in a policy known as Title 42. The President Joe Biden sought to end the policy but ended up in an ongoing court battle, following a June Supreme Court ruling allowing Biden to end the program.

Mexico has agreed to receive migrants from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala while US asylum claims are heard. However, other nationalities with poor diplomatic relations with the United States or higher costs to return migrants to their country of origin are more likely to be allowed to enter the United States. Both are true for Venezuelans.

One of the Venezuelan families in New York, who asked not to be named, said they crossed the border after crossing the Darien Gap – the strip of jungle, mountain and swamp that straddles the Colombian and Panamanian border where many families lost their lives – and crossing various Central American countries.

They decided to come to the city, they said, after hearing other migrants at the border discuss New York’s guaranteed shelter. At the border, they then agreed to take a charter bus to Washington, D.C., a decision they had an hour to make. Then an evangelical group helped them the rest of the way with tickets to New York, arriving on July 7

They were unable to identify which city in Texas they arrived in, or who exactly provided them with the bus rides.

On Monday, they visited the PATH center on East 151st Street for the third time to renew their stay in the accommodation system, where they are guaranteed accommodation every 10 days. THE CITY reported in January that last year PATH rejected three out of four applications from families seeking to stay in the city’s accommodation system, the most since City Hall began sharing those numbers a decade ago. year.

As part of a pandemic-era city policy, families are allowed to stay in temporary shelter even after one or more applications have been denied, as long as they re-apply.

A Venezuelan named Roiser, his wife and their twin daughters also traveled to the United States by crossing the Darien Gap, he told THE CITY. They fled out of fear that Roiser, a state police officer, would be jailed for 20 years for disagreeing with Nicolás Maduro’s regime. They said a friend traveling with them on the trip drowned in a river.

After arriving in McAllen, Texas, he said Catholic Charities directed his family on how to go to New York or Washington, DC. He and his family took five Greyhound buses from Texas to New York, spending a total of $1,360 on tickets.

He now hopes he will get a worker’s visa and that he and his family will be able to adjust more to life in the United States.

“We’re grateful because they helped with shelter – we’re moving towards one now,” he said in Spanish. “The intention is to be as legal as possible here and to try to integrate into society, to work, to rent on our own, so that the girls start the school year.”