The conversion of the shuttered Skyline Hotel into a temporary shelter has long been at the center of conversations around the city’s care of homeless New Yorkers. Disliked by some Hell Kitchen locals because of security concerns and supported by others as a needed resource in New York’s housing crisis, the 10th Avenue shelter has recently experienced a significant uptick in residents as Texas continues to send asylum-seeking migrants to New York.
But for all of the noise surrounding the existence of the facility in Hell’s Kitchen, little is known about what the Skyline is really like for its residents. One Skyline client shared their story with W42ST about the realities of living — and trying to leave — the city’s shelter system.
Mica* (who asked to be identified by an alias out of concerns over speaking up) has been living in the Skyline since it was recommissioned as a shelter for families in June 2022. The site had previously been used to house single men during the pandemic, sparking concerns from Hell’s Kitchen residents over the management of residents with significant mental health concerns and incidents of violence near the shelter.
Mica and their children were eligible to apply for longer-term housing after 10-14 days in the shelter. “I assumed it was the intended 14-day program, and I was only supposed to be there for an investigation period to confirm that I was eligible for housing,” they said. “From what I was told, after I was marked eligible I was supposed to receive a voucher within the first 90 days — I’ve been eligible for months already, what’s going on? Somebody tell me something.”
Mica has been persistently following up with the Prevention Assistance and Temporary Housing Office (PATH), part of the Department of Social Services (DSS) and Department of Homeless Services (DHS) in hopes of getting some answers. They acknowledged that while some residents have been able to receive vouchers within the 90 day period, “it feels like if you agitate them, they’ll move faster. I don’t want to be that person to agitate them, but I just want them to do it,” they said.
They hoped to move to long-term housing with amenities better suited for families, describing the facilities at the Skyline as serviceable but sparse. Many rooms do not have kitchen or food storage, leaving residents reliant on the facilities’ limited selection of daily food drop-offs. “There’s no kitchen. There’s no kettle for water or formula,” said Mica. “Who wants to stay with pre-cooked food that somebody brings in the morning?” For many residents who have medical dietary restrictions, like Mica’s child, the lack of options forced them to spend significant funds purchasing outside food and even water. “There are water coolers, but since there are so many more people around, sometimes it runs out and I have to find more water myself outside and spend more money.”
Mica is also concerned about security at the facility. “There are constant people outside who are not living in the shelter,” they said. “It’s overwhelming, and it’s not a place that you want your kids to be around.” Mica added that they “mostly feel safe” when inside the shelter, but there was a need for increased security cameras and personnel monitoring the outside entrance and check-in area. “I don’t want outside people to think that it’s really bad, but some people who don’t live here come here to sit outside and get high, and I feel like it needs to be addressed — you want your people to feel safe, you know?” they said. “Because of the kids, you have to be more aware of things. I watched a little girl stick her hand inside the door by accident because nobody was watching.”
Mica hopes that the Skyline can amp up security at the entrance and monitor the check-in process more closely to prevent unauthorized people from entering the facility. “They need to check at night to see who’s coming in, because I think people are being brought in [by residents],” they added.
W42ST reached out to the operators of the Skyline, the Acacia Network, for follow-up on security concerns. Representatives from Acacia told us to put all questions though the DSS and DHS. A DSS spokesperson told us: “DSS-DHS and our not-for profit provider-partners provide round the clock security and comprehensive wraparound supports to clients across our shelter system. Protecting the health and safety of our clients is our top priority, and we always work to ensure that we are providing regular meal services that comply with NYC Food Standards and include adequate and appropriate food provisions. Our staff are trained to lead with care and compassion at all times and maintain open lines of communication with clients to ensure that we are addressing any concerns as they arise.” They added that the agencies are working on additional security reporting measures to handle incidents.
Mica said that while they believe the operators of the Skyline are making an effort to engage with families — “They do have some programming, like the art days they do for kids every Tuesday and Thursday” — as a whole, staff and operators seem overwhelmed by the volume of residents. “I think it’s just too much for them. They gotta have a system and I feel like they don’t have a system for everything.”
They added that the new influx of migrant residents made it all the more urgent for DHS and DSS to help with relocation — making room and resources available for asylum seekers. “The immigrants are in need of help,” they said. “Help the people that are already eligible to get out, and then you can help the immigrants because they need it more.” Local officials like City Council Member Erik Bottcher have been making visits to the facility and Manhattan Community Board 4 has advocated for additional funding and support for West Side resources (specifically for the overwhelmed neighborhood’s school support services and medical facilities) from city agencies as shelters run out of room and the Mayor reportedly considers housing migrants in nearby cruise ships.
A spokesperson from the DSS told W42ST that the agencies were working on expanding local shelters and were committed to housing anyone in need, regardless of immigration status. “We are constantly working to minimize the amount of time our clients remain in shelters by facilitating exits to stable, permanent housing. Our teams work with each client individually to identify their needs and determine which housing and rental assistance programs will best meet those needs. This can take time, as each case is unique and different programs have different eligibility requirements, but we are determined to streamline the process as much as possible by evaluating our existing policies and procedures, cutting through bureaucratic red tape, and advocating for modifications to State and federal eligibility requirements which would significantly reduce the burden placed on vulnerable individuals seeking permanent housing,” they added.
Mica countered the allegations of some Hell’s Kitchen locals that clients at the Skyline want to stay in the shelter: “I’ve heard that some of the community has been bashing us. It’s a shelter, it’s not like we want to be here,” they said. “This can happen to anyone. You never know.”
Still without a voucher, Mica continues to work towards moving out of the Skyline, leaving message upon message with city services in hopes that they and their family can be moved to housing with a cooking facility and near their child’s school. “You have to do your footwork. You ask the questions and you call the housing specialist,” they said, adding, “I’m so tired of this place. It was all supposed to be temporary. If they move me, I’ll be fine.”