City will send migrant families to flood-prone, far-off tents

A man in a gray shirt faces a toddler in an orange shirt.

This article is part of an ongoing collaboration between Chalkbeat and THE CITY.

Mayor Eric Adams announced two striking policy shifts for migrant families with children on Monday afternoon, in his latest attempt to get people to leave city shelters and discourage new arrivals from coming into them.

City Hall said it would begin distributing notices to families with children telling them they had to leave and reapply for shelter after 60 days, while families with children entering the system would be sent to a cavernous tent shelter at Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn when it opens in the coming weeks. Until now, migrant families with children have been placed in individual hotel rooms spread out across the city. 

Removed from the nearby neighborhoods of Marine Park and Flatlands, the flood-prone and marshy Floyd Bennett Field, a former airfield, is about a five-mile trip from the nearest schools. 

In a press release, the administration called the forthcoming facility there a “semi-congregate setting,” saying that “privacy dividers with locks will be installed to provide approximately 500 families with children a place to stay.” 

Other than as a brief emergency measure after Hurricane Sandy, the city hasn’t placed families with children in congregate settings since the 1980s, according to Josh Goldfein with the Legal Aid Society, a practice they fought to ban because of the dangers children face in such settings, like their vulnerability to sexual abuse.

While the city said that the notices would go out to migrant families, it would need state permission to send those to people who are currently staying in shelters overseen by the Department of Homeless Services.

The city would need a state waiver in order to dole those notices shelters overseen by the Department of Homeless Services, which is where the majority of migrant families reside. City Hall Spokesperson Charles Lutvak said they were working closely with state agencies but declined to say if the city had been granted such a waiver.

The new plan comes as the Adams administration has gone to court to try and suspend the city’s decades-old right to shelter for adults. 

The Coalition for the Homeless and the Legal Aid Society slammed the city’s new plans.

“To be denied safe shelter after 60 days is devoid of any humanity and is a stain on our city’s long-standing reputation as a welcoming home for all,” said Redmond Haskins, a spokesperson for the two groups. “Private rooms, not open cubicles, are needed to ensure the safety of families with children and to reduce the transmission of infectious disease, among other obvious reasons.”

Haskins said they would consider seeking an injunction if the announcement violated a 2008 consent decree which dictates the rights families have in shelters, or other local regulations.

Sending families to the Floyd Bennett tent when it opens is “the best of bad options,” said an administration source not authorized to speak to reporters. 

“The alternative may be people genuinely sleeping on the sidewalk,” the source said.

Unhappy New Year?

Adams’ announcement comes a month and a half into the new school year, with around 26,000 migrant students enrolled in public schools, who may have to move into shelters far from where they are enrolled. Depending on when the city begins distributing 60-day notices to families, they’re likely to begin expiring in the final week of the year. 

While the city said the eviction notes would be accompanied by “multiple touchpoints with case workers over their 60 days to discuss their options and plan their next steps,” the news weighed heavily on some who learned about it through THE CITY. 

Venezuelan migrant Jose Meneses, 35, said his 11-year-old daughter was finally adjusting to her new school a short walk from their shelter in Sheepshead Bay. 

“It would be so traumatic for the kids, they just started to study,” he said in Spanish. “We left our country, the whole journey, and she’s just newly starting to integrate. It would be a huge trauma.”

It’s a terrible decision for parents to make mid-year, said Franklin Headley, the principal of VOICE Charter School in Long Island City where nearly 300 migrants are enrolled.

“Children build relationships with teachers and peers,” he said. “That’s going to be a hard decision for the families: do they interrupt the year and those relationships, or do they have to figure out a…form of transportation for their child?”

Jennifer Pringle, project director at Advocates for Children, a group that advocates for the city’s most vulnerable students, said trying to coordinate school buses for homeless families after they’re moved to a different shelter has historically proven a lengthy and complicated process. 

“Now on top of that you’re going to have the additional chaos of having families reapply for shelter placement every 60 days,” she said. “It’s going to be very destabilizing.”

‘The only way to help’

While the city had taken various steps to force adult migrants to leave city shelters — moving them from hotel rooms with beds to vacant gyms, office spaces, tents, and warehouses with cots, and later reducing the amount of time they could stay in any one placement to 30 days before they have to return to the arrival center and apply for a new placement — it had until now refrained from deploying those tactics on families with kids.

Despite that, such families account for about 75% of the 63,015 migrants in shelters, according to data provided by the administration to the City Council last month, with 13,553 families living in 161 hotels across the five boroughs. 

The state’s Office of Temporary Disability Administration, or OTDA, which oversees traditional Department of Homeless Services shelters, had thus far denied the city’s request to allow the city to issue 60-day notices at facilities it oversees. The majority of migrant families — 8,143 of 13,553 — were in facilities overseen by DHS, and thus would be spared from 60-day notices without further movement from OTDA. The office didn’t return multiple requests for comment over several days. 

The 60-day notices will certainly target the roughly 4,200 families staying in so-called Humanitarian Resource and Relief Centers, or HERRCS, overseen by the city’s Health and Hospitals system, which are not overseen by OTDA. The city started opening up this new type of family shelter last October, starting in large midtown hotels including the Row, the Stewart, the Watson and the Roosevelt.

THE CITY reported last month that administration officials were mulling imposing 60-day deadlines on families with children, and the Daily News reported on Friday that the new rule was going to be announced imminently. 

“For over a year, New York City has led the response to this national crisis, but significant additional resources, coordination, and support are needed from all levels of government,” Adams said in a statement. “With over 64,100 asylum seekers still in the city’s care, and thousands more migrants arriving every week, expanding this policy to all asylum seekers in our care is the only way to help migrants take the next steps on their journeys.”

Gwynne Hogan covers Brooklyn for THE CITY.

Michael Elsen-Rooney is a reporter for Chalkbeat New York, covering NYC public schools. Contact Michael at melsen-rooney@chalkbeat.org.

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