Some Bronx and Westchester County officials said they received little notice and details of the arrival of asylum seekers over the past week, after COVID-19 pandemic-era restrictions at the southern border lapsed Thursday.
Bronx City Councilmember Eric Dinowitz said in an interview Tuesday evening that temporary shelters have opened up in his council district — which encompasses the neighborhoods of Bedford Park, Kingsbridge, Riverdale, Norwood, Van Cortlandt Village, Wakefield and Woodlawn — and that his office didn’t receive much forewarning.
“We typically receive very, very short notice,” the councilmember said. “(The Department of Homeless Services), they open the shelter and then … at best they tell us a day or two before.”
Dinowitz said he couldn’t provide the specific number of shelters in Council District 11 because some of them aren’t only reserved for migrants and some have predated this most current influx of newcomers. He also said he’s tried to request specifics from the city Department of Homeless Services, but that the entity is “notoriously opaque about the data.” Dinowitz said he’s aware of a “handful” of emergency shelters serving “hundreds” of asylum seekers in his district, and that “if there is a plan to find asylum seekers permanent housing, it has not been shared with me.”
A spokesperson for New York City Mayor Eric Adams also said they couldn’t provide the exact number of temporary shelters — nor their locations — per the New York State Social Services Law, but confirmed with the Bronx Times that there were “more than 4,200 asylum seekers last week alone” who entered the city. According to the spokesperson, New York City is working to accommodate “hundreds” of migrants “every day” and has been saddled with the arrival of 67,000 since last spring.
Dinowitz said he’s mainly concerned with the amount of resources in his district that will now have to be spread more thinly.
“Our neighborhoods have been extremely welcoming, to especially asylum seekers,” he said. “Whether it’s the local school, local nonprofits, or the community boards, (they’re) all asking how they can help. But part of that help comes with support from the city government. It’s critical that New York City actually provide that support.”
The councilmember said some of those resources that have strained in the past waves of migration have been in the education sector — noting a time when his district was short on teachers and a bus stop, and had to re-work the school food program to accommodate for more kids.
“Everyone in the community is here to support each other, whether you’ve been here for generations or are seeking asylum here in the Bronx,” Dinowitz said. “And we deserve more support from the city government to make sure that everyone can get the support that we need and deserve.”
The scramble to accommodate newcomers in the Bronx and throughout New York City comes as Title 42 — a set of rules that allowed federal officials to turn away asylum seekers at the U.S.-Mexico border during the COVID-19 pandemic — expired at 11:59 EDT last Thursday, according to the Associated Press (AP). President Joe Biden tried to lift the Donald Trump-era restriction last year — but Republicans sued, claiming the regulation increased border security. After Biden declared an end to the COVID emergency this year, however, Title 42 was also put on the chopping block.
Since the expiration, thousands of asylum seekers have already made their way to the city.
According to AP reporting, the Roosevelt Hotel in midtown Manhattan — which shut down three years ago — is one of the primary emergency shelters for the group of migrants.
NYC converts hotels to shelters as pressure mounts to accommodate asylum seekers
Some migrants have also made their way just north of the Bronx border into Westchester County, with little warning and information to local agencies.
In a statement to the Bronx Times, Christina Gilmartin — the director of communications for the city of Yonkers — said that 14 families are currently staying at the Ramada Inn at 125 Tuckahoe Road “with more to come.” She said the Ramada is the only location that has opened up to asylum seekers in Yonkers so far, and that she also doesn’t have any information regarding eventual permanent housing for the newcomers.
Gilmartin said Yonkers Mayor Mike Spano was notified last Friday that migrants would be transported to the city, but that the team received “little detail” about the logistics in the announcement.
As far as sites that will open up for migrants in the future, most of those details are still up in the air.
Lane Filler, SUNY’s chief communications officer, also told the Bronx Times Monday that “at Gov. (Kathy) Hochul’s direction, we are assessing whether there are SUNY resources available to help with the arrival of asylum seekers.” But, he said he couldn’t confirm whether or not SUNY Maritime College — located in the East Bronx neighborhood of Locust Point — would open up resources to asylum seekers.
The New York Daily News also reported that the mayor’s office is considering housing migrants at the Otis Bantum Correctional Center — a 1,7000 vacant jail facility on Rikers Island — but that final decisions haven’t been made yet.
This latest inflow of migrants comes nearly eight months after the East Bronx was placed in the epicenter of New York City’s last migrant influx. Mayor Adams in September announced he’d build an asylum shelter in the Orchard Beach parking lot, but then pulled the plug on the project less than a week later — citing concerns with flooding and transit accessibility.
Adams has been critical of the Biden administration for failing to help New York City deal with the influx of migrants, saying “the national government has turned its back on New York City” during an April 19 press conference.
“As we’ve been saying for months, we are in the midst of a humanitarian crisis, having opened approximately 150 emergency sites, including eight large-scale humanitarian relief centers, to serve more than 65,000 asylum seekers,” the mayor’s spokesperson told the Bronx Times in a statement Monday. “We are opening emergency shelters and respite centers daily, but we are out of space. As the mayor has said, nothing is off the table as we work to fill our moral mandate, but we should all expect this crisis to affect every city service. We will continue to communicate with local elected officials as we open more emergency sites.”
Reach Camille Botello at [email protected]. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes