Vacate order issued for migrant shelter at former school on Staten Island

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Monday, October 16, 2023
Migrants being moved from shelter at former school on Staten Island
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Asylum seekers are being moved from the former St. John Villa Academy Catholic school on Staten Island on Monday. Lindsay Tuchman has the story.

STATEN ISLAND (WABC) -- Asylum seekers were moved from the migrant shelter at the former St. John Villa Academy Catholic school on Staten Island on Monday after the site had been the center of protests for weeks.

The migrants were moved a day after the FDNY visited the site to inspect for fire violations.

Officials said Sunday's inspection revealed several safety concerns due to a lack of sprinkler system or fire alarm.

Officials said another center being run out of the former Richard H. Hungerford School in Tompkinsville was also closed last week due to asbestos.

The shelter at St. John Villa was originally fitted to house 300 migrants, but after intense public protest, 170 asylum seekers were admitted into the facility.

A migrant named Ismael who had been living in the shelter for about 20 days said he and his wife were woken up at 7 a.m. and had not been able to eat anything.

They were being shuttled to the Roosevelt Hotel in Manhattan, the city's main shelter for asylum seekers, but he doesn't know what will happen next.

"Praying to God that he opens up paths for us and go somewhere stable...I walked through the jungle to find stability," he said.

The former school had been met with controversy and lawsuits for weeks as some residents were angry their neighborhood was being used to house the migrants.

Elected leaders on Staten Island considered the move a victory.

"The residents surrounding St. John's Villa did not deserve this disruption to their neighborhood of heavy police presence, nightly protests, and smells of raw sewage," said Congresswoman Nicole Malliotakis. "St. John's Villa should have already been made a public school as promised and zoned for, not a migrant shelter. We hope this is the beginning of New York City putting the needs and desires of our citizens and our community first."

The city said it is working to ensure the "safety and security of all those in our care."

"As the city continues to receive thousands of asylum seekers weekly, we immediately work with our agencies to ensure the safety and security of all those in our care. With more than 64,000 migrants currently in shelter across more than 210 emergency sites and an average of 10,000 asylum seekers still arriving in the city every month asking for shelter, our public servants continue to perform miracles, identifying new locations every day for asylum seekers to sleep. Asylum seekers have undergone long and arduous journeys before arriving in New York City, and we are committed to keeping them safe while staying at emergency shelters. When identifying emergency sites, we work with agencies to ensure we are taking the proper fire protective measures."

NYC Mayor Eric Adams' administration also announced Monday it will be giving migrant families with children 60 days to find alternative housing as the number of asylum seekers in the city's care surpasses 64,100.

The announcement builds on a previous policy issued by the mayor to give 30-day notices to adult migrants in the city without kids.

The mayor's office says it will pair these notices with "intensified casework services" to help asylum seekers figure out their next steps.

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