Location of 1st NYC relief center for migrants criticized by immigration rights advocates

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Wednesday, September 28, 2022
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Josh Einiger has more on the backlash from residents in the Bronx over New York Mayor Eric Adams' plan for a tent city at Orchard Beach.

ORCHARD BEACH, The Bronx (WABC) -- As more asylum seekers arrive from southern states, a temporary "humanitarian relief center" will be built in the Bronx, but some advocates say the shelter and its location could create more problems.

Workers are moving in heavy equipment preparing to build what some people are calling a "tent city" at Orchard Beach, but they are not going to be basic camping tents.

They will be large industrial heated shelters housing up to 1,000 migrants at a time, Mayor Eric Adams said they are supposed to be a temporary stop for migrants as they get on their feet.

He said asylum seekers are a "humanitarian crisis" that is separate from the city's requirement for right to shelter, and while the city will still provide shelter for all asylum seekers, it may not be not at the same levels as under the established right-to-shelter services for the city's homeless.

"We are going to treat everyone in a humane fashion, but these are two different entities," he said. "This is a crisis of migrant and asylum seekers, and that is how we will respond to it."

Still, immigrant rights advocates say Orchard Beach is a terrible location, far from the subway or any kind of employment or other government services.

"We don't want this temporary respite center to end up becoming a de facto shelter for folks where there is 1,000 beds," said Murad Awawdeh, with the New York Immigration Coalition said. "Where people are going to be sleeping and literally just being there in Orchard Beach, which is incredibly far from true mass transit."

They also pushed back on the mayor's right to shelter law statements, with the Legal Aid Society and Coalition for the Homeless issuing a joint statement.

"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 wrote. "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."

Bronx Borough President Vanessa Gibson said the parking lot where the tents will be built is prone to flooding.

"While this is not the ideal location and we have raised reasonable concerns, my team and I are working with the Adams administration to ensure that any site designated for our borough has wraparound services," Gibson said in a statement.

The mayor has pushed back against criticism of the plan to put asylum seekers in the winterized tents that happen to be in a zone 1 hurricane evacuation area.

"People live in flood zones," he said. "This is not inhumane."

He said the city looked at 50 locations before picking Orchard Beach, and he noted that six buses of asylum seekers arrived just on Monday.

On City Island, home to a few thousand people, the mayor's emergency management commissioner struggled to appeal to residents' sense of civic responsibility during a hearing Tuesday night, as many expressed their frustration over Adams' plan.

So far, at least 14,000 people have been bused to New York City from Texas, with no end in sight. The city plans to construct another relief center, but the location has not yet been determined.

RELATED | 9 buses of migrants arrive in New York City, most in one day since asylum seekers started to arrive

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