As shelters around the West Side and across the city struggle to house new arrivals seeking asylum, the Adams administration is reported to be considering a deal with Norwegian Cruise Lines to convert ships into temporary migrant accommodation. 

Norwegian Gem Getaway
Norwegian Cruise Lines are regular visitors to the Manhattan Cruise Terminal — The Gem and Getaway are pictured here in April 2022. Photo: Phil O’Brien

According to the New York Times, the mayor’s chief of staff, Frank Carone, has been in talks with executives from the Norwegian Cruise Company about the possibility of housing asylum seekers on one of their vessels. Carone was said to have researched the facilities by staying on a Norwegian cruise ship in Normandy, France in August. At a recent press conference, the mayor told reporters that the trip was not funded with taxpayer money. Mayor Adams also met Norwegian Cruise Line’s chief executive, Frank Del Rio earlier this summer, furthering a long line of friendly exchanges between the cruise line and the city that began in 2011 when former Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced a partnership making the Manhattan Cruise Terminal one of Norwegian’s home ports.

Now, as the cruise line’s purpose could shift from tourism to triage, Adam told CBS: “We’re examining everything, from the legality of using any type of cruise ship for temporary housing,” but he would not confirm the details to reporters on Friday. “When we have an announcement of any type of deal, we will make an announcement. So any type of deal they’ve written about, they know more than I do,” he said (NBC4 New York). 

In a joint statement, the Coalition for the Homeless and The Legal Aid Society reacted to the plan: “As we’ve previously stated, cruise ships are not designed or equipped to provide adequate shelter and services to homeless people, particularly those with disabilities. Furthermore, ventilation within the close quarters of a cruise ship is inadequate to protect people from airborne infectious diseases like COVID-19 and tuberculosis,” they wrote. During the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic the US Navy maintained a mostly empty hospital ship, the USNS Comfort, docked in the Manhattan Cruise Terminal.

“Given the limited number of spaces in New York City where a cruise ship could dock, we’re especially concerned with individuals’ and families’ ability to access jobs, health care, schools, childcare, legal assistance, community-based services, and other critical resources. The Adams Administration should instead take action to bolster shelter capacity by transitioning New Yorkers, including those who have languished in shelters for years, into permanent housing by reducing red tape and increasing access to local housing vouchers such as CityFHEPS, as we have detailed in our recommendations to them,” the organizations added.

The city has repeatedly violated the state’s “right to shelter” law in the wake of a significant influx of migrants sent to New York by Texas Governor Greg Abbott. More than 11,000 asylum seekers have arrived in the city since the beginning of the Republican governor’s campaign, largely seen as a political ploy to instigate a response from President Joe Biden on current immigration laws. Despite opening temporary shelters (many of which are in Midtown, such as the Skyline or the recently opened Stewart Hotel facility near Madison Square Garden), many buildings have reached capacity, and have turned away from shelters asylum seekers without ties to New York

Faced with overwhelming requests for local social services from medical care to educational services at nearby PS111, members of Manhattan Community Board 4 requested additional funding and clarity from city officials to help them manage the needs of the new arrivals. “It would be very useful to advocate directly with our elected officials at all levels for [funding],” said MCB4 co-chair Jeffrey LeFrancois on a meeting with representatives from the mayor’s office. “It gives them, frankly, the ammunition to take that money out of the coffers in Texas — because those states have been getting this money for decades, and we have not.”

New York Mayor Bloomberg Norwegian Breakaway
Mayor Bloomberg christens the Norwegian Breakaway in May 2013. Photo: Edward Reed

Representatives from the mayor’s office were unable to confirm the long-term plan for temporary facilities such as the newly opened Red Cross intake center on W49th Street, as well as tents erected in Orchard Beach in the Bronx. Immigration and housing advocates have criticized the facility as unfit for human habitation, citing recent flooding and the facility’s similarity to immigration detention centers built during the Trump administration

The Coalition for the Homeless and the Legal Aid Society have vowed to keep tabs on the potential cruise ship shelter, as well as any other proposed makeshift accommodations for arriving asylum seekers. They wrote: “Although we oppose the plan of placing asylum seekers on a cruise ship, the City has assured us that they will comply with all applicable rules and court orders, which means that clients can enter the Department of Homeless Services shelter system if they decline a shelter option that is not in compliance with the relevant court orders, such as the Orchard Beach tent facility or a cruise ship. We look forward to reviewing a plan to ensure that this remains the case with any new sites that come online, including potential cruise ships.”

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