NEW YORK — Tent shelters Mayor Eric Adams is setting up to handle an influx of asylum seekers will buy his administration more time to comply with right-to-shelter laws that the city has twice violated since border-state Republican governors began sending migrants here.
An estimated 14,600 asylum seekers have arrived in New York in recent months — some aboard buses sent by Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott. Thousands have found shelter with family or moved along to other cities, but around 11,000 of them ended up in the city’s homeless shelter system, putting an enormous strain on an apparatus that was already operating near capacity.
The city is legally required to promptly provide shelter to those who seek it, but it violated that obligation at least twice when it failed to timely house four families and 60 single men. In response, the Adams administration has opened 39 new emergency homeless shelters, largely in hotels.
The clock begins ticking when shelter seekers request housing at Department of Homeless Services-controlled intake centers, but the temporary tent shelters that the Adams administration is erecting in a far-flung Bronx parking lot will be operated by New York City Emergency Management and the Health + Hospitals Corp. The Department of Homeless Services will not be involved, which Adams said is by design.
“We have a shelter obligation that we are fulfilling every day. Everyone knows that. And we have a migrant, asylum seeker crisis … so we are going to treat everyone in a humane fashion, but these are two different entities,” he said during an unrelated press briefing Tuesday. “This is a crisis of migrant and asylum seekers and that is how we’re responding to it.”
The administration has said it wants to route migrant buses directly to the tent shelters, making them the newly arrived asylum seekers’ first point of contact.
Upon arriving, asylum seekers will be provided with medical care if necessary and asked whether they have friends or family to stay with. Those seeking to leave the city altogether have been receiving relocation assistance from community-based organizations, rather than the city, according to a mayoral spokesperson.
The 1,000-bed tent for adult asylum seekers being built in the Orchard Beach section of the Bronx will be heated, but it won’t fulfill all the requirements to comply with right-to-shelter laws. Migrants seeking housing through the city will stay there for 24 to 96 hours, providing the administration a buffer against the right-to-shelter timer: If someone were to arrive directly at Homeless Services intake center, a longstanding statute would require the city to find them a bed that same night.
If the administration is attempting to sidestep that statute, one City Council member said, officials should be upfront about the strains on the system.
“We have a legal and moral obligation to do the right thing here, but we also have to be honest about where we are and move collectively in partnership,” Council Member Diana Ayala, who chairs the Committee on General Welfare, said in an interview.
The Legal Aid Society and the Coalition for the Homeless, which have raised concerns about the city falling short of right-to-shelter rules, said they are waiting to hear more about how the tent shelters will operate. However, they noted the administration has assured them asylum seekers directed to the tent facility can enter the homeless shelter system at any time.
“They have told us that people are free to come and go and that anybody who comes to a DHS intake office — nothing will change for them, that system will still be there, and anyone who comes there will be served,” said Joshua Goldfein, an attorney at Legal Aid. “We have concerns with how these new sites will operate, but we’re waiting for answers.”
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