Mayor Eric Adams caused a ruckus on Wednesday by saying that asylum-seekers are not entitled to the same protections that mandate the city to provide shelter to homeless people who need it.
The mayor’s remark, which drew immediate backlash from homeless advocates, immigration groups and elected officials, came during an appearance on WABC’s “Sid & Friends” morning show. His comment comes at a time when his administration is struggling to house tens of thousands of migrants sent to New York City from states bordering Mexico.
“We don’t believe asylum-seekers fall into the whole right-to-shelter conversation,” Adams said. “This is a crisis that must be addressed based on what was created on this national platform.”
The mayor’s pushback against the city’s decades-old right-to-shelter law was met with condemnation from immigration groups.
The New York Immigration Coalition said in a tweet that Adams’ “job is to follow our laws including our right-to-shelter law.”
“It’s not up to him to decide who can be excluded based on how they got here. Seems like his latest tactic to avoid fixing our shelter system— a crisis hurting too many NY families,” the group added.
The Coalition for the Homeless and the Legal Aid Society, which had sued the city and won several legal victories that ensured the right to shelter for all homeless people in the city, said anyone in need of shelter is entitled to receive it, including asylum-seekers.
“Flouting the law would accomplish nothing and such a move would only land this administration in front of a judge for contempt,” the groups said in a joint statement. “The mayor must clarify his remarks from this morning immediately.”
The mayor's office pushed back in statement to Gothamist, saying that no one could have anticipated the city's shelter system being inundated like it has been over recent months.
"Legal Aid’s suggestion that the city is flouting it’s legal obligations couldn’t be further from the truth," said Adams spokesman Fabien Levy. "Since the beginning of this humanitarian crisis last spring, Mayor Adams and this administration have taken extraordinary measures to provide shelter and support to the approximately 42,000 asylum seekers who have sought help from the city. We have already opened 79 hotels and four humanitarian relief centers, and another is scheduled to open shortly."
In September, Adams called on the city to “reassess” its practices with regard to the right to shelter, raising alarm that his administration would undo or weaken the court ruling and its subsequent consent decree, which mandates that the city provide a bed in a shelter to anyone who seeks it and sets minimum standards for homeless shelters.
At the time, the mayor said the city’s shelter system was “nearing its breaking point.”
More than 70,000 people were staying in the city's shelter system as of Monday, according to the Department of Homeless Services' daily count. The record number of homeless people living in shelters managed by the city’s Department of Social Services does not include more than 40,000 recently arrived migrants who have applied for shelter.
On Saturday, Adams announced that his administration is temporarily using a cruise ship terminal in Red Hook, Brooklyn to house up to 1,000 asylum-seekers, namely single men, until the springtime.
Councilmember Diana Ayala, chair of the General Welfare Committee, said this is not a responsibility that the mayor or the city can dodge.
“Instead of a continued focus on how to avoid our legal obligation, the admin should consider my proposal to expand CityFHEPS to better serve the needs of our shelter population,” Ayala said in a tweet, referring to the city’s rental assistance voucher program. “Together, we need to find policies that expedite the transition from shelter to permanent housing.”
This story has been updated to include comment from a mayoral spokesman.