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In a now-familiar routine, City Hall abruptly announced the implementation of a new sanctuary shelter for asylum-seeking families — this time at Hell’s Kitchen’s Washington Jefferson Hotel. The move sent local social services into overdrive to manage the ongoing influx of new residents without advance notice, and the state’s gubernatorial candidates squared off over solutions.
According to emails obtained by W42ST, the Department of Social Services (DSS) informed local elected officials and some Manhattan Community Board 4 members late Monday evening of the designation of the W51st Street hotel as a new housing site for asylum seeking families sent by bus from Texas Governor Greg Abbott. Over 21,000 asylum seekers have been redirected to New York City since the spring, filling the city’s shelters and putting the Adams administration in violation of New York’s “right to shelter” law.
The hotel will be used to house 160 families. It was previously used at the height of the pandemic as a homeless shelter, but that ended in July 2020 and since then it has operated as a regular hotel.
The city did not tell officials how long it expected to use the hotel this time, but suggested it would be prepared to put families there for some time, saying it would initially be run by the Department of Homeless Services before being put in the hands of a contractor, Highland Park.
“As you are aware, New York City is currently in a state of emergency as we continue to experience a sharp increase in asylum seekers from Latin America and other regions, with more than 16,000 individuals entering New York City’s shelter system since May,” the email said.
“The City is continuing to work to provide comprehensive support and resources to these individuals in addition to our everyday New Yorkers experiencing hardship, and at this time must move rapidly to meet our legal and moral obligation to house those in need.”
Officials from DSS assured members of Manhattan Community Board 4’s Housing, Health and Human Services Committee as recently as Thursday that they would not add any additional shelters to the previously announced Skyline Hotel, Travel Inn and Red Cross crisis intake center. W42ST reached out to the Department of Social Services to elaborate on the change and received the following statement from a DSS spokesperson: “Claims that DSS-DHS representatives communicated that we won’t be opening emergency sites in a particular community are entirely inaccurate. As of 10/26, we are providing shelter services to thousands of recently-arrived asylum seekers, and have opened 57 emergency sites to address the unprecedented need for shelter. As we have always done, we are committed to maintaining open lines of communication with the community and elected representatives.”
Community Board 4 members have expressed concern over the lack of city, state and federal funding allocated to supporting local social services like the Ryan Chelsea-Clinton Health Center and the neighborhood’s schools, which were faced with the need for expanded language services for recently arrived students at PS 111 and PS 51.
“Ryan Health has an overburdened caseload directly related to the Skyline and the asylum seekers from that location – we need to get them assistance,” said co-chair of Housing, Health and Human Services Joe Restuccia after the opening of the Red Cross intake center. “PS 111 on W52nd Street needs more ESL and bilingual caseworkers — we need better coordination there. We are absorbing a huge influx of people and we need to match them up with the right services rather than shuffle them around.”
Others cited a lack of coordinated strategy for finding permanent, affordable housing for asylum seekers and other unhoused New Yorkers currently navigating the city’s sometimes circular housing voucher process. Echoing the statements of local advocates, the New York Immigration Coalition condemned the Adams administration’s pivot to tent encampment shelters and urged the city to search for solutions.
Said Executive Director, New York Immigration Coalition Murad Awawdeh in a press release on the ongoing crisis: “To continue ignoring the calls from advocates and other city officials to utilize alternative and more appropriate housing options, and instead begin implementing this dangerous plan, Mayor Adams has compromised New York City’s status as a beacon of hope.
“Mayor Adams must immediately halt any future plans to use or expand tents around our city, and instead prioritize the use of underutilized buildings to house new asylum seekers and intensely work to decompress the NYC Shelter system by providing permanent housing to our unhoused neighbors.”
At Tuesday’s sole gubernatorial campaign debate, both incumbent Governor Kathy Hochul and Republican challenger Lee Zeldin clashed over how the city and state should respond. “This is really a federal problem,” said Hochul, adding that though she felt it would be unproductive to negotiate with Governor Abbott, she was working with President Joe Biden to support Mayor Adams in handling the humanitarian crisis.
“You pick up the phone and you call Joe Biden and you say, ‘Mr. President, you have to secure this southern border,’” countered Zeldin, who argued that our customs and border patrol agents stop incentivizing and rewarding illegal entry into the US.
Hochul retorted: “We can do more on the borders, but also…Republicans, your colleagues, refuse to come to the table and have a thoughtful position on this. Now, if there’s a new day and people are willing to roll up their sleeves, like I’m always used to doing, I work with everybody — but we seem to be incapable of having Republicans work with Democrats on this issue. And until then, there’s going to continue to be a problem.”
For now, the West Side hotels, cited by the city as underutilized, continue to fill — while the neighborhood’s social services scramble to keep up.
Why doesn’t the city’s effort to provide temporary services include temporary work permits? Just take all the taxes from income earned under an Asylum Seeker’s Temporary Work Permit, and throw it into a city pot during this declared emergency and crisis. Let the city duke it out with the Feds how much should go to them and how much the city could take. Temporary city services should include temporary work permits.
This is Terrible , This is my 06Th year living in Hells Kitchen , by myself , affording the 3k apt …next to a homeless shelter .., isn’t fair , I rather move out to a place where I can see my taxes going to make a neighborhood prettier.
Its sad how they are doing this , why they don’t put the shelter on the Bronx or outside the city , where those rents match with what you pay for .
I guess is time to move .
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