Adams defends his admin’s handling of a ‘surge’ in asylum seekers overwhelming the city’s shelter system

Mayor Eric Adams defends his administration’s response to what he says is an influx in asylum seekers overwhelming the city’s homeless shelter system. Thursday, July 21, 2022.
Photo courtesy of Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office

Mayor Eric Adams defended his administration’s handling of what he says is a “surge” in asylum seekers flooding the city’s homeless shelter system in recent weeks at an impromptu City Hall press conference Thursday.

The mayor responded to criticism from advocacy groups like the Legal Aid Society and the Coalition for the Homeless that the administration has failed to provide several homeless asylum seekers shelter in a timely manner. They specifically cited instances where several asylum seeking families were left to sleep on the floor of the city’s shelter intake center in the Bronx.

Adams acknowledged that his administration didn’t meet the city’s mandate to house four families on Sunday night who weren’t processed before the 10 p.m. cutoff – for accepting new intakes for the day – and were forced to sleep in the intake facility overnight. But he said they were all placed in shelters by 11 a.m. the next morning and the families were an outlier among the 2,800 migrants who are seeking shelter in the city.

“When you look at 3,000 people hitting our shelter system and immediate response from the infrastructure of our system to address their concerns is what we are talking about,” Adams said. “So any comment or insinuation that we did not respond the way New Yorkers expect us to do so, is just not true. And this is not a moment of saying ‘hey, we gotcha. We caught you.’ No. This is the moment where our administration is saying to them, ‘we got you.’ This is who we are as New Yorkers. We got you, we’re gonna provide the services you need.”

But the Legal Aid Society and the Coalition for the homeless, in a statement, quickly responded to the mayor’s remarks, saying he “ isn’t speaking the whole truth.” The advocacy groups said it wasn’t just four families on Sunday who’ve had to sleep on the floor of the intake center, but at least eight others they spoke with Thursday morning.

“This humanitarian crisis shows no sign of abating anytime soon regardless of how many press conferences the Mayor holds to conceal the reality,” they said.

“As City officials just acknowledged, they have known about this influx of families, a portion attributable to those seeking asylum, for months. But, despite this knowledge, the Administration still lacks a plan to ensure safe shelter placement, and officials failed to detail any specifics for a viable path forward at today’s press conference, opting instead to heap praise on each other. The City is also failing to use its resources to move people into permanent housing,” they added.

The advocacy groups called on Adams’ administration to immediately increase shelter capacity, process requests for shelter placements and collaborate with hotels across the city to increase the number of available beds. If the mayor doesn’t quickly rectify the situation, they said they’d move to “file immediate litigation.”

On Tuesday, Adams released a statement calling on the White House to provide the city with additional resources to handle the influx of asylum seekers whom it’s legally required to house on a temporary basis because of New York’s status as a right to shelter city. Adams said his administration has been in constant contact with the White House about what assistance the city needs – mainly more federal dollars – since they became aware of the surge earlier this week.

City Department of Social Services (DSS) Commissioner Gary Jenkins echoed the mayor’s calls for more federal assistance Thursday.

“As the mayor has said, we need federal support in every level of government to come together to ensure that we have the resources and support to proudly uphold the inclusive values of this nation and honor New York City’s legacy as a safe haven for marginalized and vulnerable communities,” Jenkins said.

Also in the Tuesday statement, Adams said some of the asylum seekers are being sent to the city on buses from the federal government and conservative states like Texas and Arizona that don’t have right to shelter laws. But according to published reports, Texas Governor Greg Abbott and Arizona Governor Doug Doucey claim they only sent migrants to Washington D.C. and not New York City.

Adams pushed back on that claim Thursday.

“They sent them away,” Adams said. “They sent them out of the state. Our country is home of the free land of the brave. We do not become cowards and send people away who are looking for help. So, if they want to justify that in their own little way of saying ‘we sent them to Washington, so they can do a layover then come to New York,’ they can say what they want. They were wrong. They ended up here because they didn’t get the support there.”