New York City will open its first outdoor migrant camp Wednesday on Randall’s Island to temporarily house and care for hundreds of asylum seekers bused daily from border states, Mayor Eric Adams' administration said Tuesday.

The 84,400-square-foot facility in the parking lot of Icahn Stadium, toured by the press Tuesday ahead of the newcomers' arrival, will initially serve 500 single men, with space for another 500, officials said. Another migrant camp for asylum-seeker families, at the Row Hotel in Midtown, has been open since late last week, and city officials are considering other locations for single women.

The city has spent $325,000 to build the new Randall’s Island complex, a collection of temporary, white-paneled buildings and mobile trailers – and roughly the same amount to initially site the camp at Orchard Beach. That site was scrapped after it was swamped during a weekend rainstorm.

The camps have been billed as temporary rest stops – for up to about four days – to welcome asylum seekers, mostly from Central and South America, and help them get to their next destination, whether a local homeless shelter or another city. City officials and community groups lack the proper time and space to provide such services at the Port Authority Bus Terminal, where buses of asylum seekers currently arrive, according to Office of Emergency Management Commissioner Zachary Iscol.

There is no perfect place to be doing these types of operations. This is also a temporary facility. This is a short term solution for people to figure out what their next destination is going to be.
Commissioner Zachary Iscol, Office of Emergency Management

“There is no perfect place to be doing these types of operations,” Iscol said. “This is also a temporary facility. This is a short term solution for people to figure out what their next destination is going to be.”

The main building of Randall’s Island camp includes rooms for caseworkers to greet asylum seekers and help them with travel logistics, a dining hall with a buffet and and fridge packed with water and milk. There’s also a recreation room with wifi, televisions, video game consoles, popcorn machines, ping pong and Foosball tables, board games, landline phones and charging stations. Bathroom trailers line the perimeter; 88 bathrooms and showers are located on site, officials said.

Nearby, a laundry facility houses more than 20 washers and dryers, and other isolation trailers will house asylum seekers who test positive for coronavirus or other communicable diseases.

Members of the press toured the Randall's Island facility on Tuesday.

Two separate sleeping areas are filled with dozens of rows of green cots, each with a pillow, folded blanket, a package of sheets, and a plastic bag with a towel.

Adams and other city officials have argued that the camps are separate from the local shelter system – and, therefore, not subject to a decades-old court mandate that the city provide all homeless people with shelter that meets certain basic standards.

Critics contend that the city is retreating from its right-to-shelter obligations.

The set-up of the Randall’s Island camp doesn’t appear to meet some of the court-mandated standards for city shelters, said Legal Aid staff attorney Josh Goldfein when presented with photos of the site. Under People v. Callahan, shelter beds must be at least 3-feet apart. At the camp, rows of beds are feet apart, but each cot is positioned end-to-end in each row.

The rules were put in place, Goldfein added, to prevent the spread of communicable diseases and make sure people feel safe.

“It doesn’t make a lot of sense to do less than a bare bones arrangement and the question I would want to ask the city is — why do you think that it’s better to offer people less?” Goldfein said. “They’re going to vote with their feet. If they don’t feel safe, they’re not going to stay there.”

Heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) units keep the temperature in the insulated buildings to about 70 degrees, Iscol said. And though the camp is located in a flood zone, he said, the parking lot has a three-foot slope from top to bottom, so rainwater will run underneath the buildings.

Additionally, 90% of the caseworkers hired to serve asylum seekers at the camp will be able to speak Spanish, he said.

Buses will transport asylum seekers to the camp after arriving at Port Authority, and the city is working with the state-run Metropolitan Transit Authority to provide hourly buses to and from the island.