On Monday afternoon, workers at Floyd Bennett Field’s Runway 19 were still putting the final touches on the newest tent city, which is expected to welcome some 500 families in the coming days as New York resources run thin.
Officially known as the Humanitarian Emergency Response and Relief Centers (HERRC), this latest Brooklyn effort to accommodate the flood of humanity being bussed into the Big Apple differs significantly from its Randall’s Island and Queens counterparts since this time it houses families and not merely single males. Instead of row upon row of low-hanging cots, groups of temporary beds are situated inside of doored dividers referred to as “pods.”
According to city officials, these meager rooms can be locked and will host a light fixture and several power outlets.
Only several feet wide, these “pods” hold just enough room for sleeping arrangements and a small space to walk. However, like similar sites elsewhere, the facility will also house a 24/7 kitchen and dining area, bathrooms, and an arrival center where people are screened and provided with vaccines and medical care. Additionally, security guards will be posted at the site to ensure unauthorized visitors do not gain access to the HERRC.
This is all constructed on a Marine Park airfield landing strip, at a driving distance from storefronts or neighborhoods as the city struggles to find locations fit to meet the needs of thousands of human beings.
“We’re doing the best we can to find placements for folks,” Commissioner of New York City Emergency Management Zachary Iscol said. “It’s a terrible situation. It is what it is, now being over a year into this humanitarian crisis.”
According to Iscol, the city has taken over 130,000 people into care since April 2022, with some 65,000 people still being housed.
“We’re out of room and we’re doing everything we can to keep up with the demand,” Iscol added.
Despite city officials repeatedly charging that the city is running on empty and working with overwhelming numbers of migrants, criticisms are still being levied at the Floyd Bennett Field site, most notably concerns of flooding and its rather remote location. While officials state that they will be setting up a shuttle bus to take passengers to connecting buses, the sheer distance continues to be a factor for many.
Public Advocate Jumaane Williams visited the HERRC on Monday and commented on the location, stating: “The distance is bad. I mean, there’s no way around that.”
However, while Williams called it “not the best place,” he also told amNewYork Metro that the city is “doing the best with a bad situation.” In an effort to mitigate the staggering pressure on the five boroughs, Williams also called on Governor Kathy Hochul and the federal government itself to step up and take action.
“First and foremost, we need the governor to recognize right to shelter as a statewide right to help relieve some of the responsibility that’s put on New York City and we need the White House to do similar in getting some of these buses and folks diverted from coming to New York City. The biggest problem is the concentration of responsibility for New York City. We could change that,” Williams said. “That’s the one place that seems to be in complete agreement: We just can’t handle this on our own.”
While the Floyd Bennett Field HERRC will start housing some 500 people this week, the population will be capped at 2,000. Those staying at the tent city are said to be new arrivals and not immigrants who have already traveled to New York. They will also be given notice, only allowing them to stay for 60 days.
For Dr. Theodore Long, HERRCs like these are all about ensuring that families are kept safe, healthy, and off the streets.
“We’re working incredibly hard to prevent any family with children from having to ever sleep on the street and I’m proud in New York City, compared to other cities, we’ve not had any families and children sleeping on the street,” Long said. “We have built sites now in parks, parking lots, and now literally an airport runway.”