Migrants Protest Move From Midtown Hotel to Barracks-Style Shelter

New York City began moving single migrant men out of a Midtown hotel and into a new barracks-style shelter in Brooklyn over the weekend. But some refused to go — the latest flash point as the city struggles to accommodate tens of thousands of homeless newcomers.

Men who were being moved to the Cruise Terminal in Red Hook crowded the entrance to the Watson Hotel on West 57th Street on Sunday night, demanding to be let back in, and some slept on the sidewalk outside, aided by supporters who brought them pizza and blankets. Tents and luggage crowded the sidewalk. Some continued to protest there on Monday as the move-outs continued.

City Hall said that all the single adults would be transferred out of the 600-room Watson in the coming days to make room for migrant families who continue to arrive on buses from the southern border. More than 43,200 migrants have come through the city’s intake system since last year, including more than 1,600 in the last week. About two-thirds of them remain in the city’s care.

Mayor Eric Adams has repeatedly warned that the city is “at its breaking point” as it struggles to provide for the newcomers, many of whom lack connections here. The costs are expected to reach over $1 billion this year and could increase as more people arrive, city officials have said.

On Sunday, the city’s main homeless shelter population surpassed 70,000 — a figure that does not include thousands of the migrants who are in emergency shelters. The main shelter population has increased by 40 percent since August.

“There’s a crisis right now, and that crisis should be coordinated by the national government,” Mr. Adams said on CNN on Monday morning, reiterating his calls for federal officials to take the burden off cities where migrants are arriving.

Some of the men who were protesting the move to the cruise terminal said they had heard from people who went to the Red Hook facility that it was cold and lacked privacy or a safe place to store belongings. A spokesman for City Hall said that the facility was temperature-controlled and included assigned storage spaces, and suggested that the disruption at the Watson was incited by activists.

More on Migrants in New York

New York City has always welcomed and depended on immigrants. But a new wave of people crossing the U.S. border is testing the city’s reputation as a world sanctuary.

  • Homelessness on the Rise: The arrival of new migrants, mostly from Latin America, has pushed the population of the city’s homeless shelter system to record levels.
  • Right to Shelter: One reason New York is under strain is because the city is required by law to give shelter to anyone who asks.
  • Settling In: As New York prepares for more migrants to arrive, those who arrived last year are beginning to build new lives. Some are struggling. Others are making strides.
  • The Other Migrant Crisis: Another, hidden wave of people has been arriving in the city from Latin America: African migrants. Their plight has been largely overlooked.

Emmanuel Abreu, 29, of Venezuela, had first been housed in tents the city set up on Randalls Island in the fall, which operated for only a few weeks as a large-scale shelter for men before being shut down. He was told he had to leave the Watson on Tuesday.

“The place where they are taking us is nowhere for someone to live,” he said. “How can you rest with someone next to you, someone you don’t know. The beds are like army beds, so imagine getting home from work to sleep there.”

He said he would be boarding a flight to Canada on Monday night rather than moving to Brooklyn.

Some men refused to leave the hotel area or came back after they visited the new shelter in Red Hook. Some set up tents and slept on the sidewalk instead.Credit…Jeenah Moon for The New York Times

In a letter to President Biden last week, officials including the New York City comptroller, Brad Lander; the public advocate, Jumaane D. Williams; three borough presidents and more than two dozen members of the City Council said the city urgently needs more federal support for its efforts.

The letter said that the average cost of sheltering a single homeless person is about $200 a day, but opening emergency shelters was far more expensive and was costing the city “well over $300 a day” for each migrant.

The city is housing migrants in more than 70 hotels. Five of the city shelters are “humanitarian emergency response and relief centers,” including the Watson and the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal. Those sites were intended as temporary landing places for new arrivals and are run by the city’s Office of Emergency Management and public hospital system, rather than the Department of Homeless Services, in partnership with other agencies and providers.

Earlier this month, Mayor Eric Adams announced that the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal would open with 1,000 beds and stressed that it would offer the same services as other sites, including medical care, food and laundry.

In a statement on Monday, Shahana Hanif, chair of the City Council immigration committee, said that the Red Hook facility failed to meet standards required by the city’s right-to-shelter laws. A video posted on Sunday showed that cots in the facility were placed head-to-toe in adjoining rows; in regular city shelters, more space is required between beds.

“We know that the needs of asylum seekers cannot be met in this setting,” Ms. Hanif said. “I call on the administration to abandon this model and prioritize keeping people in proper brick-and-mortar facilities.”

Anthony Geovea, 27, of Venezuela, arrived three days before Christmas and was evicted from the Watson on Sunday. He was one of about 40 people who slept in the street outside overnight.

“Here everything was comfortable and decent,” he said outside the hotel on Monday, while a city bus waited to take more men to Brooklyn. “It’s hard if you are alone and don’t have anyone.”

Jonathan Echeverría, 30, of Colombia, said he had returned to the hotel on Sunday evening after a 13-hour shift at a restaurant, only to learn that he no longer had a room there. He was allowed in to gather his belongings, accompanied by security guards.

He was planning to spend the coming days figuring out where to live, but hadn’t yet received a paycheck, as he began working less than a week ago.

Not everyone was unhappy with the cruise terminal. Darson Hodgson, 26, of Bluefields, Nicaragua, arrived there on Sunday.

“Everything’s great, thank God,” he said. “We have support. There’s everything, beds, medical attention, televisions, sofas. It’s very comfortable.”

Videos from inside the facility circulating among migrants showed rows of black storage bins and folding tables, in addition to the cots.

Three elected officials who represent the Red Hook area said in a statement on Monday that they were alarmed by videos circulating that compared the terminal to detention centers near the southern border. Councilwoman Alexa Avilés, Assemblywoman Marcela Mitaynes and State Senator Andrew Gounardes said the mayor’s office had postponed a scheduled tour of the terminal with elected officials.

“If the shelter was ready for people to begin arriving Saturday, it should be ready for elected officials to visit on Monday,” they said.

Mr. Adams himself paid a visit on Monday. The mayor played Ping-Pong with men staying at the facility as others watched with amusement, video taken by residents showed.

Finding permanent housing for the newcomers is a huge challenge in a notoriously expensive city. People who are seeking asylum are not immediately authorized to work, presenting a major frustration for new migrants, many of whom are desperate to find off-the-books gigs as soon as possible. City officials, including Mr. Adams, have called on the federal government to expedite work permits.

Even for people who do find some work, renting an apartment may be out of reach. Deborah Berkman, supervising attorney of the Shelter Advocacy Initiative at the New York Legal Assistance Group, has worked with over 50 migrants who arrived from the southern border. Many migrants are not eligible for government rental assistance because of their legal status, she said.

And as New Yorkers know, renting on the open market can be difficult even for people with ample documentation of a steady income.

“Without money or a housing voucher, it’s too expensive to get a place to live in New York,” she said.

Reporting was contributed by Samira Asma-Sadeque, Brittany Kriegstein, Andy Newman and Christopher Alvarez.

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