Migrants sleep in cars parked outside Roosevelt Hotel: ‘I’m stuck here, my car is broken’

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By Dan Sears

Migrants are sleeping in cars parked outside the city’s main intake center in Midtown Manhattan as it becomes more difficult to secure a bed.

Gothamist visited the Roosevelt Hotel on Christmas day and Jan. 4. On both days, a reporter saw men sleeping in four cars with out-of-state plates on Vanderbilt Avenue, near the hotel. Food scraps, like discarded pizza boxes and take-out containers, were littered around the vehicles with fogged-up windows. Some of the men declined to comment. But others described their journey to the hotel that one city official has called “a new Ellis Island.”

Venezuelan migrant Yovani Nieves, 23, said he’d bought his white Mitsubishi Lancer in Vancouver, Canada. He’d worked there for several months, but then decided with a friend to drive to New York City to escape the harsh Canadian winter. He said the car died when they reached the Roosevelt Hotel.

The city says it offers new arrivals an array of resources at an “asylum seeker resource center” at the hotel. But Nieves said staff blew him off because he wasn’t part of a family. He opted to sleep in his car.

“They’re just helping the people who have families, little kids,” said Nieves. “If you’re a single man, they kick you out, send you to the street.”

City Hall spokesperson Kayla Mamelak said she could not comment on individual migrants’ claims. But she strongly disputed that any new arrival seeking shelter would be turned away.

Gothamist spoke to Nieves on Christmas day. He said he’d slept in his car two nights in a row.

Homeless migrants sleeping in cars is commonplace in other parts of the country. New York City has a right-to-shelter mandate, which guarantees a roof and bed to anyone in need. Desiree Joy Frias, an organizer with South Bronx Mutual Aid, said more migrant families could be pushed into cars or onto sidewalks as the city forces them out of the shelter system.

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Single adult migrants must leave their shelter and reapply for placement in the system after 30 days. On Tuesday, a first wave of migrant families reached a 60-day deadline to leave shelters and reapply.

“They have nowhere to move on to,” Frias said. “Adams wants them to leave the state. It’s winter.”

A security guard who works near the Roosevelt Hotel said he’d noticed migrants sleeping in cars with out of state plates starting last month.

Brittany Kriegstein

A security guard at the JP Morgan Chase building near the Roosevelt Hotel said he noticed migrants sleeping in cars starting last month. The guard, Angel Narvaez, shared videos of people who appeared to be living in their cars on the block by the bank’s $3 billion building.

“All of a sudden, little by little, cars with migrants with out-of-state plates have been coming in,” Narvaez said.

He recalled watching migrants play the parking game on the street to avoid tickets. He described the scene as “a very big toxic nuisance.”

The vehicles had license plates from Alabama, Washington, Georgia and Texas. Some of the plates were temporary. All of them had at least one recent violation for standing in a commercial meter zone, according to a database of New York City parking violations.

Migrant families who have reached the 60-day deadline in the shelter system are being directed to reapply for placement at the Roosevelt. Mayor Eric Adams promised that the process will be orderly.

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“This is not going to be a city where we’re going to place children and families on the street and have them sleep on the street. That is not going to happen,” Adams said Monday.

Some of the migrants who were sleeping in cars outside the Roosevelt said they had ties with others who had a room inside.

Venezuelan migrant Hugo Rafael Ramirez, 22, said he made money driving his black Honda as an Uber during the day – and let his friend sleep in it at night.

“There’s no space in the hotel. It’s full,” said Ramirez.

He said he’d bought the car for $4,000 in Manhattan with the help of his family in New York. The car’s license plate was not registered as a for-hire vehicle with the city’s Taxi and Limousine Commission.

The migrant men who spoke to Gothamist said sleeping in the cars was their best option. A migrant intake center in the East Village for single men regularly has a line of hundreds of people. Migrants begin queuing up well before sunrise.

Frias said migrant men on their own get the least compassion from the city.

“They really feel like they can just toss out young guys and that they’ll just take it,” she said.

The Roosevelt Hotel has been likened to a “new Ellis Island.”

Brittany Kriegstein

The Roosevelt Hotel is not the only place in the city where a few migrants have apparently managed to buy cars.

Brooklyn Assemblymember Jaime Williams said she saw the National Park Service tow five cars and a truck used by migrants from a lot at the Floyd Bennett Field shelter. Many of the vehicles did not have license plates, she said.

“It was really bizarre to me to see that,” she said. “I don’t understand where they could have gotten these vehicles from…because I don’t think they’re processed to even obtain a license from DMV.”

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Frias said the vehicles were a means to make money.

“There are migrants that work their way up from bicycle to scooter to vehicle through Uber Eats,” Frias said. “There’s channels on WhatsApp and Telegram where you can buy an Uber Eats and a DoorDash account without having to meet the ID requirements.”

Adams and other officials have pleaded with federal authorities to issue work permits to the roughly 70,000 migrants currently living in shelters.

Ramirez said he and other migrants sleeping in their vehicles at the Roosevelt clean up at a nearby gym.

“We pay $30 a month, we do 20 minutes of exercise, and we shower there,” he said.

Nieves said he’s stuck with his broken-down Mitsubishi. He wanted to drive to Dallas but couldn’t repair his ride. He said he explained his predicament to cops, who no longer give him tickets.

“I tell them I’m stuck here, my car is broken and I don’t have money to fix it,” he said. “They just told me to move the car.”

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