Over the weekend, it has been revealed that several migrant families, including children, were provided temporary accommodation in an old NYPD training facility, potentially violating longstanding regulations that prohibit the city from sheltering children in group settings.
The retrofitted gym at the former Police Academy on E. 20th St. in Manhattan was repurposed last week to house adult male asylum seekers due to the overwhelming strain on the city’s shelter and emergency housing systems caused by the continuous influx of migrants.
Josh Goldfein, an attorney from the Legal Aid Society’s Homeless Rights Project, witnessed a migrant entering the facility carrying a child late on Sunday. Recognizing this as a potential violation, Goldfein promptly informed officials in Mayor Adams’ administration about his findings.
He was subsequently informed that multiple migrant families with children were being housed in the gym. The Legal Aid Society serves as a de facto watchdog on local shelter regulations, ensuring compliance with the established rules.
“It’s not clear to us if this was done on purpose or by mistake,” Goldfein said, adding he was told the city planned to move the families to “more appropriate” lodging on Monday.
When questioned about The News’ report during a Council hearing on Monday, Molly Wasow Park, the Commissioner of the Department of Social Services, acknowledged that it might take more than 48 hours before the children housed in the gym are relocated. City workers have arranged long and closely spaced rows of bunk beds in the gym to provide sleeping arrangements for the migrants.
Wasow Park, whose agency oversees the city shelter system, said the gym is not supposed to be a long-term accommodation for anyone, but rather a place where migrants can stay while the city finds space in shelters or hotels. “It is intended as essentially overflow space so that when we have spikes in the numbers that is a place where people can be,” she testified.
Fabien Levy, spokesperson for Mayor Adams, declined to disclose the exact number of children admitted to the Police Academy gym over the weekend.
Levy justified the administration’s decision to house asylum seekers in facilities such as gyms, citing the continuous influx of new arrivals as a primary factor. He attributed the ongoing arrivals, at least in part, to “activists.”
“A network of activists are organizing large-scale arrivals of asylum seekers to New York City via plane, bus, and other modes of transportation — taking advantage of city and state laws and luring them here with false promises,” Levy said. “As a result, we have reached the limit of new shelters we could open. We currently have no other options but to temporarily house recent arrivals in gyms.”
Levy declined to name the activist groups.
Longstanding state regulations, in place for decades, stipulate that children must be accommodated in family-style shelters that provide separate rooms, ensuring privacy.
There are “very good reasons” for those rules, Goldfein said.
“As we saw during [Hurricane] Sandy, when you have children sleeping in congregate settings, children were exposed to sexual violence. That’s the whole reason why the state does not allow that to happen in the regular shelter system,” Goldfein said, recalling that Legal Aid represented a client whose child was sexually assaulted in one of the congregate emergency shelters the city operated following the 2012 storm.
“Every time when there has been a situation with children in congregate shelters, that has been a disaster for those families, and the city should be doing everything they can to avoid that happening,” Goldfein added. “It’s not safe.”
Former Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who runs Win, the city’s largest family homeless shelter provider, echoed Goldfein’s sentiment.
“All homeless families — especially migrants seeking asylum — have been traumatized, and forcing these children and their parents to sleep in congregate settings only serves to compound that trauma,” Quinn said. “Let me be clear: this is an unsafe practice and it is an unsound policy. Every homeless family with children deserves a safe, private space to call their own.”
Amid the influx of tens of thousands of migrants, predominantly from Latin America, since last spring, the administration under Mayor Adams is facing challenges in providing adequate accommodation for them.
The local shelter system is currently experiencing a record-high population of nearly 80,000 individuals, according to data from the Department of Homeless Services. To address the situation, the city has resorted to housing thousands of migrants in hotels, incurring significant daily expenses.
As the number of arrivals continues to rise, with hundreds more coming each week, the administration, with limited available space for housing asylum seekers, has recently implemented drastic measures to cope with the situation.
Last Friday, the mayor made an announcement that his administration plans to accommodate hundreds of willing migrants in two hotels rented by the city in Orange and Rockland counties, located upstate. However, this announcement faced strong opposition from Republican leaders in those areas who assert that they also lack sufficient space.
Additionally, the city is preparing for the expiration of Title 42, a policy implemented during the Trump administration that has prevented many migrants from seeking asylum in the United States. Once this rule is lifted, the Adams administration anticipates that the rate of migrant arrivals will likely increase further.
In response to the situation at the Police Academy facility, Legal Aid and the Coalition for the Homeless issued a joint statement emphasizing that the severity of the crisis should not serve as an excuse for the city to disregard its legal obligations. They also pointed out that the Adams administration recently secured $1 billion in state funding specifically for addressing this crisis, which they believe should guarantee suitable shelter for all, including asylum seekers.
“With additional funding now coming from Albany, we urge city officials to use these resources to secure needed hotel rooms for recently arrived asylum seekers, and to loosen restrictions on housing vouchers to transition New Yorkers already residing in shelters to permanent housing, bolstering shelter capacity to help meet the demand,” their statement said.