Mayor Eric Adams on Tuesday stood behind his decision to temporarily house thousands of asylum seekers in tent-like structures being built in the Bronx, saying the city was responding appropriately to a humanitarian crisis.
Since the mayor announced the plan last week to build the “Humanitarian Emergency Response and Relief Centers,” advocates and local elected officials have been raising concerns about the legality and logistics of the shelters. Under the city’s plan, migrants would typically stay at the relief centers for anywhere between one and four days.
Last week, Gothamist reported that as described by the mayor, the shelters may violate NYC’s right to shelter mandate, but the mayor insisted on Tuesday that the current migrant crisis, perpetuated by Republican state governors sending migrants to the city, should be considered a separate issue.
“We have to separate the two. We have a shelter obligation that we are fulfilling every day. Everyone knows that. And we have a migrant, asylum seeker crisis. It is our belief that we need to treat this like the crisis that it is,” Adams said. “No one thought that we would be receiving over 13,000 people for housing. And so, we are going to treat everyone in a humane fashion, but these are two different entities.”
The mayor was pressed on his plan to utilize tents to address the influx of asylum seekers and likened the crisis to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, when the city used major spaces, like the Javits Center, the Aqueduct Racetrack in Queens, the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal and the College of Staten Island to provide care to the sick.
"To those who are saying it's inhumane to use tents, I'm like, what are people talking about?” Adams said. “There was a tent in Central Park during COVID. Did people forget I was on the ground in COVID?"
In a joint statement following the mayor’s remarks, the Legal Aid Society and the Coalition for the Homeless responded to the mayor’s claims with reassurances that the city’s right to shelter laws would be followed – and respected.
“New York City’s right to shelter is explicit: Anyone in need of a bed, including asylum seekers, is entitled to one, and this administration has pledged to fully comply with these well-established court orders which ensure this fundamental right,” the groups said. “The administration has also assured us that asylum seekers will retain the ability to enter the Department of Homeless Services shelter system at any time.”
The groups also called on the City Council to free up shelter beds by reforming various housing voucher programs in order to get more New Yorkers into long-term housing.
Construction on the first shelter, which is geared toward adults and expected to open in the coming weeks, began Monday at a parking lot near Orchard Beach in the Bronx. The mayor said the Bronx location was selected above 50 other proposed spots.
As first reported by City & State, the lot is located within a flood zone. When asked about the city’s plan should the pending shelter facility become flooded, Adams said the city would act as it does with any other flood-prone areas.
“People live in flood zones,” Adams said. “And when there's a flood that threatens that zone, we evacuate. And so there's nothing new here.”