Legal Aid threatens to sue city after migrants left to sleep outside over the weekend

Migrants sleeping on a bus
Migrants sleep on buses outside the Roosevelt Hotel.
Photo by Dean Moses

The Legal Aid Society and the Coalition for the Homeless threatened a suit against Mayor Eric Adams’ administration on Monday over several weekend instances of recently arrived migrants having to sleep in buses and on city streets.

The two groups, which have often acted as a check on City Hall’s response to the recent influx of migrants, said in a joint statement on July 31 that allowing asylum seekers to sleep on the streets “runs afoul” of multiple laws and court orders. That includes Gotham’s landmark right-to-shelter law, which stipulates the city must give a shelter bed to any person seeking one — a legal obligation Adams’ office is currently trying to overturn in court.

If the practice continues, the groups said, they’ll be forced to take legal action.

“There is no dispute that the city has a legal obligation to find an appropriate placement for anyone in need of shelter in a timely fashion,” the groups said in the joint statement. “Denying new arrivals placement and forcing people to languish on local streets is cruel and runs afoul of a range of court orders and local laws.”

“The multiple stories and photos that have circulated on social media and reports from our clients who are stuck without shelter is both heartbreaking and maddening, and should this continue, we will have no choice but to file litigation to enforce the law,” they added.

The threatened suit follows a weekend where new arrivals were forced to sleep on buses or the sidewalk outside of the Roosevelt Hotel in Midtown Manhattan, which has served as the city’s welcome center for migrants since May, due to the facility reaching capacity. The buses — according to a published report — can hold up to 15 people and were originally brought-in as places where migrants could wait outside of the hot weekend weather, but quickly became a place to sleep.

Migrants bathing themselves in New York
Migrants wash themselves with bottles of water on the sidewalk/Photo by Dean Moses

For the past few months, Adams has been sounding the alarm, with increasing urgency, about the diminishing availability of shelter beds for migrants, as over 93,000 of the newcomers have arrived in the five boroughs since spring 2022. More than 56,000 migrants are currently in the city’s care, causing the overall shelter population to soar to well over 100,000.

The administration has constantly been scrambling to find new available spaces where it can temporarily house people — last week announcing a new 1,000-bed tent shelter will be erected in the parking lot of a Queens psychiatric center.

During an unrelated news conference on Monday, Mayor Adams acknowledged people slept in vehicles and on sidewalks over the weekend. But he said that given the reality that his administration has run out of room for housing more migrants, they must “localize” — contain — the people sleeping on the streets to certain parts of the city.

“We have to localize this madness,” Adams said. “We have to figure out a way of how we don’t have what’s in other municipalities where you have tent cities all over the city. Our next phase of this strategy, now that we have run out of room, we have to figure out how we’re going to localize the inevitable that there’s no more room indoors.”

Adams, however, didn’t elaborate on what that “next phase” will look like — whether it be migrants sleeping in parks or parking lots, instead saying it will be announced at an unspecified time in the future.

“When we roll out the next phase of this I’m going to publicly announce it,” he said. “I could assure you that this city is not going to look like other cities where there’s tents up and down the street.”