Officials with Mayor Eric Adams’ administration didn’t deny a report Wednesday that it is considering setting up a migrant tent shelter in Central Park—and other large parks—as the lack of space in existing city shelters has left newcomers sleeping on the streets.
The plan — originally reported by the news website Gothamist on Aug. 2 — would see tent shelters erected in major city parks including Prospect Park in Brooklyn and on Randall’s Island, in addition to Central Park. It follows several days where hundreds of asylum seekers, mainly men, have been sleeping on the streets and in buses outside of the city’s migrant welcome center at the Roosevelt Hotel in Midtown, due to the facility reaching capacity.
While not confirming the city is seriously considering locations like Central Park, Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services Anne Williams-Isom said the public spaces have been on a list of possible shelter sites the city has been evaluating for several months.
“I think this plan was leaked almost nine months ago, where there were all kinds of sites that we have to look at,” Williams-Isom said during a migrant crisis briefing on Wednesday. “Similar to [when] we went through the COVID emergency, when we were like, ‘where do we need to be and what is possible?’”
“Right now, everything is on the table,” she added.
The mayor was supposed to be at the migrant briefing, but didn’t show up after changing his schedule less than an hour before it began.
Williams-Isom would not confirm if the reported plan to open the park-based shelters is imminent, instead noting that the city is constantly considering a list of roughly 3,000 potential sites that could be used as shelters for new arrivals.
“We continuously have sites, I think it’s over [3,000] sites that we look at constantly. We look at the flow through the front door, we look at our priorities,” Williams-Isom said. “We are constantly refreshing that list. And seeing what work we would have to do. How we would have to change it.”
According to a separate report from the New York Daily News on Tuesday, the administration is floating building tent shelters on several soccer fields on Randall’s Island. When asked about that specific proposal, Williams-Isom repeated that all options are “on the table.”
The city previously constructed a large-scale tent shelter on Randall’s Island late last year — a move that was met with a tide of criticism, only to tear it down nearly a month later. The facility never reached capacity and was shuttered due to the number of migrants arriving in the city at that time dramatically dropping off, according to administration officials.
Since last spring, more than 95,600 migrants have come through the city shelter system’s intake process, according to City Hall. There are currently more than 107,900 people in city shelters overall, 56,200 of whom are asylum seekers.
The push to use well-known public parks as spaces to shelter migrants follows the mayor earlier this week striking a dire tone, saying the crisis will only get worse from this point on without significantly more federal funding and a plan to move asylum seekers to other locations throughout the country.
“We need help and it’s not going to get any better,” the mayor said Monday. “From this moment on it’s downhill. There is no more room.”
The mayor also said the administration is shifting to a new phase where it is looking to “localize” — contain — the migrants sleeping outside to certain locations.
“We have to localize this madness,” he said at the time. “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.”
Earlier Wednesday, the New York Immigration Coalition held an event commemorating the one-year anniversary of the first bus of migrants being intentionally sent to the city by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott. Murad Awawdeh, the organization’s executive director, blasted the Adams administration for staying in an emergency response mode since the influx began, instead of pivoting to a longer-term plan, and for changing its tone from welcoming to the opposite.
“Very little has changed since those early days, the Adams administration has kept the city in an emergency response mentality,” he said. “This administration has doubled down and tripled down on strategies that aren’t working and never worked. But one thing that has changed is the mayor’s rhetoric, he’s no longer welcoming of asylum seekers.”