New plan calls for building shelters for migrants on Randall's Island soccer fields

ByCeFaan Kim and Eyewitness News WABC logo
Tuesday, August 8, 2023
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RANDALL'S ISLAND, New York City (WABC) -- New York City will soon open three of its largest emergency housing facilities yet for asylum seekers as it prepares for a surge in the coming weeks.

Along with the Randall's Island site announced Monday, the city is also planning to open Humanitarian Emergency Response and Relief Centers at the former Creedmoor Psychiatric Center in Queens and will convert a current respite center on Hall Street in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn, to the larger facility.

The state is reimbursing the city for the costs of its second Randall's Island facility, as well as for the construction, maintenance and staffing at Creedmoor.

However, the message from neighbors of the Creedmoor Psychiatric Hospital campus on Tuesday night is that migrants are not welcome there. Residents complained that it's too close to schools and are worried about who might be staying in the tents.

"Sexual predators, I'm concerned about that. I'm concerned about rape. I'm concerned about robbery. I'm concerned about our cars being broken into," Queens Village resident Joseph Concannon said. "These people are destitute and they need money."

Meanwhile, the first three of five buses carrying migrants from the southern border arrived at the Port Authority Bus Terminal Tuesday night. Two more were expected to arrive by dawn. City officials still have no communication with the Abbott administration in Texas, and only learned of the incoming buses on Monday.

Until last month, MTA buses would shuttle migrants to the Roosevelt Hotel. But now, New York National Guard members hand them flyers, with walking directions. Because there was no MTA bus waiting for them, the migrants who arrived on Tuesday got help from activists who are calling Ubers and Lyfts to take them over to the Roosevelt.

"The least we can do as a city is to come together and greet them and welcome them with dignity and get them to where they need to get to safely, because they're coming at all hours of the night," said Power Malu of Artists Athletes Activists.

One group that didn't need a ride was Elizabeth Nuñez, and her three children, from Venezuela. Her husband came to pick them up and take them to their new home in New Jersey. They've been waiting to be reunited for three years.

The Randall's Island facility is expected to start accepting asylum seekers in the coming weeks.

Like a prior plan last fall, it calls for building a shelter on Randall's Island - this time on soccer fields. The city says this new facility would hold 2,000 adult men.

However questions still remain - like how will this shelter differ from the previous one, which did close.

The city constructed the first shelter there last October but shut it down just weeks later because it wasn't being used. Migrants didn't want to stay there because of its isolation.

"When we built Randall's Island last year, we had 15,000 migrant asylum seekers," said Mayor Eric Adams on Tuesday. "We are now at 97,000."

With Governor Hochul by his side at an event in the Bronx, Mayor Adams said the situation is worse than last fall.

The facility is slated to house 2,000 single adult men, which is double the normal number.

And instead of in a parking lot, the Humanitarian Emergency Response and Relief Center will be built on a soccer field.

It cost $16 million to set up and operate the first center on Randall's Island.

It's unclear what it cost to tear down, but $325,000 was spent to break down the HEERC on Orchard Beach.

"And we are aggressively, persistently, asking for the use of Floyd Bennett Field, for example, as a resource for us," said Gov. Hochul. "I'm hoping to receive an answer from the White House very soon."

Critics say both the federal government and the state haven't done enough to help the city.

When asked if he thinks the state could do more, Mayor Adams pointed out the state is reimbursing the city for the cost of the second Randall's Island facility and other sites.

"As the number of asylum seekers in our care continues to grow by hundreds every day, stretching our system to its breaking point and beyond, it has become more and more of a Herculean effort to find enough beds every night," said Mayor Eric Adams. "We're grateful to Governor Hochul and New York State for their partnership in opening this new humanitarian relief center and covering the costs, and we need more of the same from all levels of government.

The West Side Soccer League, which is one of the groups that uses those fields, has created a petition to stop the new facility, saying that the new facility could mean s loss for youth organizations in the fall.

The league sent an email saying in part,

"As you may have heard, the NYC government is considering the use of soccer fields on Randall's Island for use as a shelter for newly-arrived immigrants. Under this plan, a shelter would be constructed on Fields 82-85, which is normally used for children's recreational activities. And although we don't currently use those fields as much in the Fall, their loss for all youth organizations may mean we lose other field space as all spaces get shifted around to compensate for the loss of this field time. Additionally, the impact to the condition of the fields would mean that even when the fields are returned for youth soccer programming, their condition would likely be so bad their use will be limited and it will take time to repair."

Meanwhile, Eyewitness News got a look inside the Roosevelt Hotel which is an intake center as well as a shelter.

Video shows cots set up inside the large spaces and hotel rooms are being used by migrant families. That's in part why most of the people sleeping and standing in line outside of the hotel were men.

Mayor Eric Adams says the city cannot at this point provide basic care to the asylum seekers. He spoke with "Nightline" and said that with 57,000 people in the city's shelter system, the city is simply running out of options.

"This room here is filled to capacity, the hotel, filled to capacity, all those chairs you saw downstairs, filled to capacity, all the sites we have out, filled to capacity. There was no more room anywhere. Not only at this building but at the 195 other locations that we opened. There was no more room," Mayor Adams said. "We're at capacity. We have been providing those food, shelter, clothing, food educating children making sure they get the level of dignity they deserve but we cannot kid ourselves."

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