Shelters are the last resort for asylum seekers who have struggled to secure housing

After getting a waiting list number from the Homeless Services Administration’s Family Reception Center in the Bronx, known as PATH, Natalia and Johan went out with their 5-year-old daughter, bought chicken wings and fries at a nearby restaurant Bodega, and chewed on them. They are in front of the city building.

The family, who only asked for their first names to be released, arrived in New York City six months ago, fleeing Columbia after a relative’s involvement with the wrong mob landed him in prison and left Natalia and Johan fearing for their lives.

The couple and their daughter live with four other members of their extended family, who have also recently immigrated to the country, in Uncle Natalia’s one-bedroom apartment in Kew Gardens, Queens.

They have been searching for their own apartment in vain since their arrival, while their asylum application is pending. All the while, the uncle lived in fear that he would lose his home due to allowing too many people to live with him.

“For us, that’s because we haven’t found a home,” Johan said in Spanish, explaining why they were looking to enter a homeless shelter. “We have the money. But, more than that, we need papers.”

Natalia and Yohan, who work in cleaning and construction, are now heading to the city’s homeless shelter system, arriving at the Office of Preventive Assistance and Temporary Housing with a duffel bag set up to spend the night in one of the city’s shelters. They hope that the city, which is a party to the legal settlements establishing their right to shelter, will not only provide them with temporary shelter, but will eventually help them secure permanent housing.

Asylum seekers have recently come into focus as Mayor Eric Adams dubbed them the main force driving the growing demand for beds in the city’s shelter system, and even accused the governors of Arizona and Texas of sending them en masse to New York. (In fact, governors Doug Ducey and Greg Abbott targeted Washington, D.C.)

On Monday, Adams declared an emergency allowing him to bypass the usual competitive bidding process so that City Hall could hire a nonprofit provider to operate what he called the Asylum Seeker Service Referral Center. Social Services Commissioner Gary Jenkins said the city sees 100 new applications a day, and claimed that 4,000 individuals seeking asylum have applied for city-run shelters since late May.

This followed a letter declaring a state of emergency sent on July 29 by Jenkins to Controller Brad Lander and company advisor Sylvia Hinds Radix, “based on recent trends in moving families and individuals seeking asylum to the northeastern United States, particularly New York City” and seeking permission for those City officials to open “one or more accommodation facilities for asylum seekers.”

But interviews at PATH suggest that it’s not just newcomers who seek refuge in city shelters after being directed to New York City by border authorities or aid groups.

PATH Family Shelter in the South Bronx, January 27, 2022.

Unknown numbers of those who applied to the city’s shelter system have been New Yorkers for months or more, two or three times as many living with friends or relatives as they struggle to gain a foothold in the city’s expensive housing market.

scramble for rooms

On Tuesday, a City Hall spokesperson emailed in response to THE CITY’s questions that the 4,000 figure was an “estimate… based on a comprehensive analysis of self-reported information provided by customers upon receipt that also helps inform our assessment of capacity needs and forecast trends.” ”

“Because we do not ask about the immigration status of people in our reception centers during the self-report process, we use a variety of information provided by our clients to determine if they are seeking asylum,” the spokesperson said.

The City Council, Legal Aid Society and the Homeless Coalition agree that the current capacity of available Family Shelter beds began dwindling in May and is now very low.

However, there is disagreement about the reason for this. Shelley Nortz, policy director for the coalition, questioned the focus on providing shelter specifically targeted only to asylum seekers given that there are several factors driving up the number of applicants.

“We remain concerned about the lack of planning to do so,” she said. There are many factors that influence the census. Asylum seekers are one of many factors, and no one has been able to determine this. It’s definitely not the only factor.”

She and others said other issues are underway, including the increase in the number of evictions after the pandemic’s eviction moratorium ends and the usual rise in families applying for shelter that occurs each summer.

And the city council has once again reverted to the much-criticized practice of putting homeless people in hotels. During the pandemic, the Homeless Services Administration relied on empty hotels to get people out of crowded shelters, but it stopped last fall and began returning homeless people to city-run shelters.

In June, for example, the Department of Homeland Security informed the Alliance of a hotel in Queens that the department had intended to discontinue use and would continue to accept families. About 200 units are now back online.

There is no one way to New York City

Several accounts have emerged to explain the recent wave of asylum seekers who entered the city’s shelter system. Some organizations, including Catholic Charities in New York and the Immigration Coalition in New York, have said they have been listed as sponsors by asylum seekers under the guidance of federal officials at the border.

Murad Awawdeh, executive director of the Immigration Coalition in New York, said his organization receives notices to appear before families seeking asylum.

“Personally, I don’t think people would call Catholic Charities or the Immigration Alliance in New York. I think it was just CBP,” Awawdeh said, referring to the Customs Service and the Federal Border Patrol.

Mario Russell, director of immigrant and refugee services for Catholic charities in New York, offered a similar view in a recent interview: “What I’m talking about here is kind of like having the federal government have its agents put down the administrative office addresses for Catholic charities, it’s happening at the federal level. And that’s He needs to look at it right away.”

Volunteers from Catholic Charities help Central American refugees in McAllen, Texas, August 17, 2017.

Vic Hinterlange/Shutterstock

Customs and Border Patrol did not respond to city questions.

None of the four asylum-seeking families the city spoke to at the PATH Intake Center said they had been directed to New York City by Border Patrol agents. Two traveled to the United States directly to New York with a sponsor – a family member or friend willing to receive the immigrant.

Like Natalia and Johan, a second family who also arrived from Colombia said they had applied for shelter due to their precarious housing situation in New York City.

The other two families were allowed to enter the country across the border after fleeing Venezuela, nor with a sponsor. Venezuelans are over-represented among the newcomers, in part due to recent federal immigration policies.

Beginning in 2020, the federal government led by former President Donald Trump began turning asylum seekers away from the border, citing the public emergency caused by the pandemic, in a policy known as Title 42. President Joe Biden sought to end the policy but ended up in a court battle. Still in progress, following a June Supreme Court ruling that allowed Biden to end the program.

Mexico has agreed to take in immigrants from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala pending hearing of US asylum cases. However, other nationalities that have poor diplomatic relations with the United States or that have higher costs of returning immigrants to their countries of origin are more likely to be granted entry to the United States. Both are true for Venezuelans.

One Venezuelan family in New York City, who asked not to be named, said they crossed the border after crossing the Darien Gap – the patch of jungle, mountains and swamps that straddles the Colombian and Panamanian borders where many families have lost their lives. – It makes its way through various Central American countries.

They said they decided to come to town after they overheard other immigrants at the border discussing New York’s secured shelter. At the border, they then agreed to take a charter bus to Washington, D.C., a decision they had an hour to make. Then an evangelical group helped them the rest of the way with tickets to New York City, which arrived on July 7.

They could not determine which city in Texas they had arrived in, nor who exactly provided them with the bus ride.

On Monday, they visited the PATH Center on East 151st Street for the third time To renew their stay in the shelter system, where they are guaranteed a place to stay in 10-day intervals. The CITY reported in January that last year PATH rejected three out of four applications from families seeking accommodation in the city’s shelter system, the most since City Hall began sharing those numbers a decade ago.

Under city policy in the era of the pandemic, families are allowed to stay in temporary shelter even after one or more applications have been rejected, as long as they apply again.

A Venezuelan named Roser, his wife and their twin daughters, came to the United States by crossing Darren Gap. They fled due to fear that Roiser, a state police officer, would be imprisoned for 20 years for not agreeing to Nicolás Maduro’s regime. They said that a friend who was traveling with them during the trip drowned in a river.

After arriving in McAllen, Texas, he said Catholic charities instructed his family how to go to New York City or Washington, D.C. He and his family took five Greyhound buses from Texas to New York City, spending a total of $1,360 on tickets.

His hopes now are that he will get a work visa and that he and his family will be able to adjust more to life in the United States.

“We are grateful that they helped with a shelter – we are now heading to one,” he said in Spanish. “The goal is to be as legal as possible here and try to integrate into the community, work, and rent on our own, for the girls to start the school year.”

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