Homeless advocates blast NYC for allowing some migrants to sleep outside in 20-degree weather

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By Dan Sears

Homeless advocates on Wednesday blasted New York City officials for allowing hundreds of migrants to wait hours in freezing temperatures for new shelter placements and said it was an “egregious breach” of the city’s legal obligation to provide temporary shelter beds to those who ask for them.

“The troubling and unnecessary scene at the East Village reticketing site is reminiscent of the deplorable conditions that our clients were forced to endure in the sweltering heat outside of the Roosevelt Hotel this past summer — one which drew international shock — and the city must immediately rectify this situation without further delay,” the Legal Aid Society and the Coalition for the Homeless said in a joint statement.

Hundreds of adult migrants evicted from city shelters due to a recently enacted 30-day limit on their stays have spent all week lining up outside a former Catholic school in the East Village, waiting to snag another shelter placement. Many were told there were no available beds and were sent to a waiting room in the Bronx — where they had to sleep on the floor — before returning to the East Village site the next day. Several migrants told Gothamist this week they had arrived at the site as early as 4 a.m. to try to beat the expected line.

On Wednesday, a handful of newcomers said they had slept outside in 20- and 30-degree temperatures, despite an official code blue weather emergency, to save their spot in the line and ensure they could get a bed the next day.

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“It’s not that we want to be here, but we want to make the process faster and stop wasting our time,” said Misael Garcia, 30, who slept on the sidewalk, wrapped in blankets and cardboard boxes, with his two brothers and a friend.

He said staff at the former St. Brigid school, where migrants are queuing up, told them to go to the Bronx, but the migrants refused. “To accept that is to accept another day making this line,” Garcia said in Spanish.

Legal Aid is currently in confidential mediation talks with Mayor Eric Adams’ administration over its efforts to temporarily suspend a 40-year consent decree requiring the city to guarantee bed availability and certain living conditions at shelters.

“The general public should know that if the city, supported by the state, prevails in their effort to gut right to shelter protections, these scenes will become commonplace throughout our city — a reality no New Yorker wants to see,” the group’s statement with the Coalition for the Homeless said.

City Hall officials have said local shelters are at capacity and this week began directing migrants with expiring 30-day vacate notices to St. Brigid if they needed to reapply for a bed. The site was previously used only for migrants who wanted a city-funded plane or bus ticket to leave the city.

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About 65,000 migrants are in the city’s care, according to the Adams administration, with hundreds more arriving each week.

“Simply put, we’re out of good options,” said City Hall spokesperson Kayla Mamelak. “In an effort to streamline operations, we are directing adult migrants who have already been offered past placements to our reticketing center, where we are doing everything we can to try and find additional space in a system that is long past its breaking point.”

“As the temperature starts to drop, we will continue to do our best to keep the line indoors, and provide an indoor waiting room for migrants when the center is closed,” she added. “But let’s be clear: Our administration is the last place where blame should be laid.”

Internal data obtained by the news site The City showed 640 people arrived at St. Brigid on Sunday but only 237, or less than 40%, were assigned a new shelter placement; the rest were turned away. On Monday, another 442 people arrived at the site but only three, or less than 1%, accepted a plane or bus ticket elsewhere, according to the outlet.

Mammad Mahmoodi, cofounder of EV Loves NYC, a community group that distributed hot meals to people waiting outside St. Brigid on Monday, said the migrants are incentivized to camp there overnight because there’s currently no ticketing system that accounts for how long people have been waiting.

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“Every day it starts from scratch,” he said. “Every day significantly less beds are available than the people who are there.”

When migrants are sent to the Bronx waiting room and return to St. Brigid the next day, they have to start at the back of the line again. “Therefore, people are risking their lives sleeping in freezing cold just to be in the front of the line,’ Mahmoodi said.

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