Tensions are said to be at an all-time high within city shelters as New York’s homeless and the rapid influx of asylum seekers stretch services thin, highlighting the demand for greater federal funding to aid all of those in need.
With heavy rainfall forcing the city to alter its plans of placing the Humanitarian Emergency Response and Relief Center at Orchard Beach, Mayor Eric Adams announced that he would be shifting the tents to Randall’s Island where he feels the migrants will be safer from the climate.
Randall’s Island and Wards Island are also home to several homeless shelters not far from where the 500-person tents will be erected. With thousands of asylum seekers already sharing space with New York’s unhoused in shelters all across the five boroughs, volunteers and homeless rights advocates point out that this only goes to further show the need for aid from the federal government as New York becomes rapidly overburdened with native and non-native New Yorkers needing housing, food, clothing, and medical care.
Although the mayor has repeatedly championed the city’s agencies for bearing the heavy load of humanity, some elected officials — including Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine, whose district the new tent city will fall within — have repeatedly called on funding from the federal level to help what is swiftly becoming unmanageable.
“To ensure asylum seekers can easily move to and from the island, service on the M35 bus should be greatly expanded, and regular ferry service must be established connecting Randall’s to the mainland of Manhattan,” Levine said in a statement. “We need to continue to advocate for federal leadership to expedite work permits for asylum seekers, coordinate a national resettlement plan, and more quickly reimburse localities like NYC for costs incurred.”
As Levine pointed out, the area receives bus service from the M35, which several of those living at shelters decry as being unreliable. Sources familiar with the situation told amNewYork Metro that the city and MTA are in talks to provide additional service on the M35 to accommodate everyone.
Still, there are some who believe transportation is not enough, and that the money is simply not there to support the needs of everyone.
“I’ve talked to people in the shelters all the time. I’ve noticed within, let’s say, the last month that since we’ve gotten this influx there have been a lot of tension in shelters. Complaints of a stoppage in services for people that have been already sheltered to a focus on our asylum seekers,” homeless advocate Shams DaBaron told amNewYork Metro. “It’s not us versus them. We are pushing for helping them while at the same time not seeing those who have been sheltered and neglected for years be even further neglected.”
Public Advocate Jumaane Williams believes the issue comes from a lack of housing and is calling upon the city to revert back to pandemic practices that saw the city place the unhoused within hotels, which could possibly prevent some from being lost in the shuffle.
“Asylum seekers seeking support, solidarity, and a better life deserve much more than a tent in a transit desert as winter approaches – at the very least, the city should tap into the same resources we used during the height of the pandemic to further open space at hotels or large indoor areas, as well as expedite CityFHEPS vouchers to quickly move unhoused New Yorkers out of shelters and into permanent housing, opening shelter space for asylum seekers,” Williams said in a statement.
While DaBaron believes there should be a distinction between those native to the city and recent arrivals, The Safety Net Project is challenging the city for separately categorizing migrants into a humanitarian crisis and the unhoused as being a homeless crisis.
Supervisor of Homelessness and Benefits Advocacy with the Safety Net Project Helen Strom believes this distinction indirectly creates an us-versus-them mentality, when in reality, both migrants and the city’s homeless are suffering from the same problems requiring the same aid.
“The Adams administration has created a false and offensive narrative that there are migrants and then there are homeless people, and that somehow they should get different things. The fact is that some migrants are homeless and hundreds of thousands of people of all backgrounds have used the City’s shelters for temporary housing for decades. This false distinction has led to tensions because the Mayor’s Office has handled the current situation so disastrously. Politicians pitting poor people against each other by nationality has a long and brutal history,” Strom said.
“It is not any homeless person’s fault – migrant or not – when the City refuses to accommodate disability needs, open adequate shelter capacity, quickly move people into permanent housing, provide dignified shelter accommodations, ensure children have adequate food, or provide appropriate language-access in municipal facilities. Those issues lie squarely at the feet of City officials and bureaucracies,” Strom added. “The fact is that the Adams administration has ample resources available to rapidly empty the shelters by rapidly expediting permanent housing placements, contracting far more hotel space, and repurposing vacant buildings. Instead, they’ve decided to build massive refugee camp-style tents in flood zones.”
But according to sources within the Mayor’s office, the city has, in the past few months alone, opened over 40 emergency shelters to help mitigate the surge in humanity.
The Adams administration dismissed claims about the us-versus-them mentality, but pointed out that the converging crises show the city is becoming overwhelmed, and that more assistance from the president and federal government are needed.
“In the last few months, we have experienced an unprecedented surge of asylum seekers arriving from the southern border. For months, this administration, on its own, has safely and efficiently provided shelter, health care, education, and a host of other services to more than 16,000 people, predominantly from Central and South America who are seeking a better life. As the number of asylum seekers arriving in New York City has increased exponentially in recent weeks, it’s clear now more than ever that we need support from our state and federal partners,” a City Hall spokesperson told amNewYork Metro.