Adams appears to say ‘right to shelter’ doesn’t apply to over 13,000 migrants in NYC

Adams, right to shelter
Mayor Eric Adams at a news conference following his trip to Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic in Washington Heights. Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2022.
Photo by Ethan Stark-Miller

Mayor Eric Adams seemed to suggest Tuesday that New York City’s “right to shelter” law doesn’t apply to the more than 13,000 asylum seekers who’ve come to the city in recent months, and that the city has been struggling to house.

In response to a reporter’s question at an unrelated press conference on whether a new temporary tent-like shelter in the Orchard Beach section of the Bronx, set to house up to a thousand migrants, will be in compliance with the city’s “right to shelter” law, the mayor said people need to start thinking about that law as separate from the migrant crisis.

The right to shelter policy legally requires the city to provide shelter to anyone seeking it.

“We have to separate the two,” Adams said. “We have a shelter obligation that we’re fulfilling everyday. 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. 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. This is a crisis of migrant and asylum seekers and that is how we’re responding to it.”

When pressed by a reporter if the facility would comply with the right to shelter law in terms of the spacing between beds, the provision of supplies and the offering of mail and laundry services, hizzoner doubled down on separating one crisis from another.

“The migrant crisis is outside of the housing initiative that we are doing for right to shelter,” Adams said. “These are two different entities. We’re dealing with a humanitarian crisis that was created by human hands, I say over and over again.”

The mayor’s office didn’t respond to further inquires from PoliticsNY on what his comments mean for the city’s right to shelter law.

Tuesday was the first time Adams took questions from reporters since his office announced the city would be erecting the tent-like shelter facilities – meant to relieve pressure on the city’s overburden homeless shelters – in the Orchard Beach parking lot, which will serve single adults. The city will also construct a second tent shelter in a yet-to-be announced location that will house families with children.

In addition to temporary shelter, both facilities promise to provide food, case work services and medical care. Construction crews began building the Orchard Beach structure in earnest Tuesday, with the site expected to open in a week.

The announcement of the new facilities faced almost immediate backlash from electeds as well as immigrant and housing advocates, who compared the structures to refugee camps or tent cities that wouldn’t meet minimum standards for city shelters.

In a joint statement, the Legal Aid Society and Coalition for the Homeless – advocacy groups that frequently find themselves in opposition to the mayor – blasted Adams’ comments about the right to shelter policy Tuesday. 

“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,” they 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.

“While we appreciate that the city has been communicating with us on this crisis, we still have many outstanding questions and concerns relating to the availability of critical services for these vulnerable individuals and families,” they added.

The groups also once again encouraged City Hall to reform the city’s housing voucher programs, allowing more people from shelters to transition to permanent housing and take pressure off the shelter system.

“Lastly, to bolster capacity at local shelters, we hope that the city will heed our repeated calls to reform various housing voucher programs – including CityFHEPS – which would allow New Yorkers to transition from these facilities into affordable, long-term housing,” they said. “City Hall could unilaterally act on this today, and it is precisely the bold action that homeless New Yorkers and asylum seekers need and deserve.”

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