NYC Mayor Adams to open refugee-style camps for asylum seekers

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Mayor Adams announced in a press release Thursday that the city plans to house asylum seekers in temporary, refugee-style camps — a move that further illustrates the huge strain a recent influx of migrants has put on the city’s shelter system.

Through an email put out by his press office, Adams’ team described the camps as “humanitarian emergency response and relief centers” and pointed to past examples of such centers with pictures depicting tents filled with rows and rows of cots.

The first relief center, which will cater to single adults, will open at the Orchard Beach parking lot in the coming weeks. The location of a second center has not yet been determined.

“While other leaders have abdicated their moral duty to support arriving asylum seekers, New York City refuses to do so,” Adams said in a written statement. “This emergency response represents what we know must be done during this humanitarian crisis, as we continue to seek assistance from our federal and state partners to continue this work.”

The new centers will offer shelter, food, medical care, legal aide and tickets to other locales, top city officials said.

For months now, Adams and his administration have been struggling to house and care for a steady stream of migrants from Latin America seeking asylum in the United States. Many of the more than 13,000 who’ve arrived in the city so far are coming on buses directed by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican who’s seized on that practice to criticize President Biden’s border policy.

Adams has slammed Abbott’s behavior and that of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who sent planeloads of migrants to Martha’s Vineyard, as a “political stunt,” but the rhetoric on both sides has done little to address the actual needs of the asylum seekers — one of whom recently committed suicide.

The fact that Adams announced the new relief centers through a press release — and not in person — is notable. The creation of the centers is the first time a government has set up free-standing temporary emergency housing in the city in years — probably since Quonset huts were used to house veterans and their families after World War II.

“This is completely unprecedented,” Catherine Trapani, executive director at Homeless Services United, said of the new camps. “We don’t do refugee camps in New York City.”

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After putting out their written statement in the morning, administration officials later took questions from the press in a briefing under the condition that officials not be quoted by name. Later in the afternoon, Mayor Adams spoke at the Texas Tribune Festival, where he fielded questions from a single journalist.

There, Adams framed Thursday’s announcement to reassess how the city’s policies will interact with the state’s right to shelter laws — something he vowed to do several days ago.

“It doesn’t look like this is going to slow down at all,” he said, referring to the flow of migrants to the city. “So our legal team is really looking at the right to shelter. We have to revisit how it’s done correctly.”

Administration officials noted that the Orchard Beach facility alone will be able to hold up to 1,000 adults and will be climate controlled and weatherized, meaning it will be snow and rain-resistant. The officials wouldn’t provide a cost estimate for the camps, but one noted the city would seek federal reimbursement for them. There will be five large tents at the Orchard Beach site, another official noted.

As of Thursday, more than 10,000 asylum seekers who’ve come to the city are now living in homeless shelters. Last week, that number stood at 8,500. About 3,200 of the more than 10,000 migrants in shelters are school-age children.

Rep. Ritchie Torres (D-N.Y.) said the response to this has been “unprecedented because the situation is unprecedented.”

“There’s no playbook for what’s happening,” he said. “The federal government is nowhere to be found. New York urgently needs the help of FEMA.”

The Legal Aid Society and the Coalition for the Homeless focused their concerns on Adams’ latest response to the crisis, though —not the federal government’s.

“We are deeply concerned with any scenario in which families with children would be relegated to congregate settings,” the groups said in a joint statement. “This practice, which has been widely condemned for its adverse and dangerous impact on this uniquely vulnerable population, is already subject to legal prohibitions.”

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Both groups have slammed Adams in recent weeks for his administration’s failure to adhere to the right to shelter laws, which require that shelter be provided to anyone seeking it within a timely manner. Adams and his team have pushed back that while they have not met the time requirements in some cases, they have eventually provided shelter to those seeking it.

The mayor has also taken flack for the dearth of new affordable housing in the city and how that’s led to crowding in homeless shelters.

“New York City continues to do a pretty bad job of moving people to shelters into housing,” said Sam Stein, a housing policy analyst with the Community Service Society. “We need to improve that in order to have more room in the shelter system for when something like this happens.”

It is still unclear how long the city will house asylum seekers in the relief camps it plans to erect. City officials said in their written statement that asylum seekers “who do not or cannot find immediate housing will stay at humanitarian relief centers for approximately 24 to 96 hours,” but they also noted that the timeframe is “subject to change depending on the situation.”

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