The deployment of National Guard troops to several homeless shelters across the city is raising alarms among advocates regardless of the roles the guard members serve.
Neha Sharma, a spokesperson for the city’s Department of Social Services that oversees the sprawling shelter system confirmed to Gothamist that guard members are providing support — such as distributing food and managing shelter capacity — at some of the emergency shelters the city opened to house migrants.
The recent arrival of the National Guard to several city shelters was first reported by the Daily News Wednesday.
“These operational supports do not include staffing supports for security, social services, or case management services,” Sharma wrote in an email.
But their presence has rattled advocates like Jacquelyn Simone, director of policy for the Coalition for the Homeless. Some migrants fled authoritarian governments and it could be unnerving for them to see men and women in military uniforms in the places where they live, she said.
“It could make people feel uncomfortable,” Simone said. “It could also be triggering people who have endured trauma.”
Craig Hughes, a social worker with the Safety Net Project of the Urban Justice Center, criticized the Adams’ administration for relying on the National Guard to deal with a humanitarian crisis.
"Adding an arm of the military to the municipal shelters is yet another frightening move by the Adams administration, which has spent the past 10 months putting police front-and-center in response to the City's homelessness crisis,” Hughes said. “Adams is dragging homelessness policy increasingly to the right, rather than using housing resources to empty the shelters."
The National Guard troops were deployed by Gov. Kathy Hochul to help manage what’s now become an overburdened shelter system driven by an influx of Latin American asylum seekers bused to New York from southern states.
DSS did not say how many National Guard troops were deployed to homeless shelters. But Simone said city officials informed her group that guard members are at seven shelters housing families with children across four boroughs. They have been there for the past week, she said.
Even though the city agency said National Guard troops will not play a role in the shelter system’s security, Simone said that is not certain.
“We’ve been told that guard members would not be involved with security and yet in some of follow-up correspondences suggest they might be,” she said. “So, we need to get clarity on those roles.”
Earlier this month, Hochul agreed to send the National Guard to help the Adams’ administration manage the city’s tent shelters on Randall’s Island which is intended to be a temporary waystation for single adult men. The large temporary shelter complex, which could house up to 1,000 people, so far has only housed a fraction of that number.
It’s not clear whether additional troops will be sent to other city shelters, Simone said. The DSS spokesperson did not say whether that would be the case.
Avi Small, a spokesperson for Hochul, said the governor mobilized the National Guard at the mayor’s request for help.
“National Guard have been deployed to provide logistical support at site for single individuals as well as certain other sites serving families of asylum seekers,” Small said in an email.
As of Wednesday, the city received about 21,700 migrants, city officials told Council members during a weekly briefing behind closed doors. Of those, roughly 16,200 men, women, and children are living in the city’s temporary shelter system and in two Humanitarian Emergency Response and Relief Centers, according to the meeting details shared with Gothamist.
As of Wednesday there were 63,636 homeless people living in the city shelter system, breaking a record set earlier this month.