Bronx pols left out of Orchard Beach asylum shelter decision, remain unclear on details

Construction on a humanitarian relief center for asylum seekers begins on Tuesday, Sept. 27 at Orchard Beach in the Bronx.
Construction on a humanitarian relief center for asylum seekers begins on Tuesday, Sept. 27 at Orchard Beach in the Bronx.
Photo Dean Moses

Some Bronx leaders are unsure about the effects a new migrant shelter at Orchard Beach will have on the community, following a recent announcement from Mayor Eric Adams that stated he’d be opening a humanitarian relief center there in the coming weeks.

City Councilmember Marjorie Velázquez, who represents District 13 and the Orchard Beach area, told the Bronx Times on Tuesday that her office had no input in conversations about the location of the relief center.

“I just want to be very clear — I wasn’t involved in choosing the location,” she said.

Velázquez said while she has some questions about the relief center itself, she is supportive of the initiative to temporarily house asylum seekers.

“The spot is not ideal,” she said. “We have our concerns about this, but we are in the middle of a crisis and we need to make sure that we are leading by compassion.” 

The Sept. 22 press release from Adams’ office states the new humanitarian relief centers are designed to “provide assistance to newly arriving individuals and families and ensure they continue to be connected to the full range of services and supports they need.” These services include shelter, food, medical care, case work and settlement aid for asylum seekers from Texas and other border states that have recently arrived in New York City. Refugees are permitted to stay at relief centers for approximately 24-96 hours, although those parameters are subject to change by situation.

The Orchard Beach location is the only NYC one currently set in stone, according to the mayor’s office, although “a second location is still being finalized.”

Velázquez said working to provide asylum seekers medical, mental health and religious services are a few of the areas her office is focusing on, although the details haven’t been solidified yet. Additionally, some of the questions that remain are what the implementation of this shelter will mean for people who frequent Orchard Beach, including how best to let families enjoy the park area and waterfront. 

“Our biggest moments where we show our New York values have been at the hardest, toughest times,” Velázquez said. “This is a tough situation and it’s asking a lot from folks, but certainly we all have a different immigrant story and just remembering that as immigrants — that’s what makes our country so great.”

Matthew Cruz, district manager for Community Board 10, which encompasses the Pelham Bay neighborhood, told the Bronx Times on Monday that members of the board found out about the mayor’s plans to open an asylum shelter shortly before Adams’ office issued a press release on the matter. 

“We have yet to meet with the mayor’s office, which is unfortunate,” Cruz said Monday. “We’re disappointed that we didn’t get much of a heads up. We got a phone call before the press release was issued, but nothing in terms of a meeting.” 

Cruz said CB10 is still trying to assess the mayor’s timeline for the project, as well as the implications it will have both on Bronxites in the Orchard Beach area and the people seeking refuge there.

“They haven’t gotten to us at all, in fact it’s been quiet on that front since the issuance of the public statement,” he said. “We just don’t know anything about what to expect, if we should expect anything.” 

Most of what the board knows about the project at this point is the location — the Orchard Beach parking lot — although Cruz said he’s fairly certain the shelter won’t prohibit people from accessing the waterfront. 

The Orchard Beach parking lot is being transformed into an emergency shelter for the busloads of migrants that have recently arrived in New York City. Photo Dean Moses

As a lot of preliminary details aren’t fleshed out yet, Cruz said the board has a lot of questions for the Adams administration.  

“We’re waiting … on the mayor’s office to contact us so we can finally discuss what’s occurring and what’s our responsibility,” he said. 

The office of Bronx Borough President Vanessa Gibson had not responded to multiple requests for comment Tuesday, but in a Monday statement said she has some concerns with the proposed shelter. 

“While this is not the ideal location and we have raised reasonable concerns, my team and I are working with the Adams administration to ensure that any site designated for our borough has wraparound services,” Gibson’s statement said. “Under these emergency circumstances, we will work together with the administration in a balanced and strategic manner to ensure the Bronx is not overburdened but rather an equal part of these important conversations moving forward.”

The Adams administration had not responded to multiple interview requests Tuesday, but the mayor said in last week’s press release that New York City “refuses” to turn away asylum seekers out of moral obligation.

“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,” Adams said in the release. “Like the generations that came to our city before, New York will provide the thousands now coming to our city with the foundation to build a better life.”

According to the release, the Orchard Beach center will be serving adults and additional shelters may be opened in New York City as needed in the coming weeks.

This story was updated at 2:57 p.m. on Sept. 28.

Reach Camille Botello at [email protected]. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes