Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Inside the East Village 'respite center' for asylum seekers

Photos and text by Stacie Joy 
First in an ongoing series (part 1 is here)
Editor's note: To protect the asylum seekers, our published photos
do not include names, faces or personal details.

According to the online publication The City, a half-dozen sites in NYC now serve as what the Adams administration refers to as respite centers for asylum seekers, including the former St. Brigid’s School, which closed in the spring of 2019.

“They’re basically like waiting rooms until we can find a placement for somebody,” an official for Mayor Adams told The City.

After reading this article by Gwynne Hogan and Haidee Chu, I went to the school on Seventh Street and Avenue B — last used by unvaccinated teachers to conduct remote learning — to see if I could help provide food, clothing, or personal care items for the hundreds of people expected here in the days and weeks ahead.
On my first trip, around 75 individuals had arrived at the destination. I had brought along donated items such as food and clothing, intending to inquire about the specific needs of new arrivals for their short-term stay. 

However, it became apparent that the demand was immense at the center that first opened its doors this past Thursday. Many people arrived without shoes, and nearly everyone possessed only the clothes they wore, lacking any personal belongings. 

Those fortunate enough to have phones were eager to locate a Wi-Fi connection to communicate with their families, yet the center had no access. The situation was distressing, with many people visibly upset and exhausted from their long journey. Some quietly approached me, requesting coffee or Tylenol to alleviate their headaches. 

Most of the people I spoke with were Spanish or French speakers, and I met asylum seekers from Venezuela, Ecuador and Mauritania, among other locations.

The newcomers arrived to this space via MTA buses, and their numbers increased daily. (I was informed that the facility could accommodate up to 350 adults.) Upon arrival, they underwent a processing procedure at the center, receiving a lanyard and an ID card featuring a QR code. 

They were then directed to the designated area where cots were placed and presented with a welcome packet. The basement, which served as the primary location for the cots, was uncomfortably cold, and the only provisions provided by local officials were thin blankets adorned with the City of New York crest and small personal care kits.
There are bathrooms but no showers or laundry facilities. There is a kitchen, but it doesn’t have gas for cooking, as the building hasn't hosted students since the spring of 2019. Signs are directing people to shower at the Dry Dock Pool on 10th Street at Avenue D.
Security is understandably tight at the location, so it is suggested that we set up outside, and people can come to select what they need from what is available. 

I am told repeatedly that “the city doesn’t want to draw attention to the facility,” but also staffers run out and whisper requests to me, “A refugee needs a cell phone; an old one is fine. Can we find her one?” ... “a postpartum mother needs special underwear; any way to source her some?” ... “We have a diabetic on site; is there a sugar substitute available?”
I volunteer to buy a hotplate so people can have coffee, but I am told it’s a liability, and the City doesn’t want the risk. My friend donates a coffeemaker, filters and coffee beans instead, but it’s never used. Again, I am told it’s a liability. 

I started asking friends and neighbors for donated blankets, sweaters, sweatpants, or anything to keep people warm. I also asked the local food nonprofit EVLovesNYC if they could help with a Sunday lunch, which was fortuitous, as the city’s planned meals never arrived that day.
We were initially invited inside to distribute meals (we had four meal kits: chicken, pork, veggie and vegan options), but soon after, the NYC Emergency Management site supervisor demanded we leave (and take all the food with us). 

It’s a dichotomy, as the City is asking for help with the overwhelming influx (tens of thousands) of refugees and asylum-seekers expected in NYC. Still, city officials are also preventing community members from directly supporting the people in need. (According to The City article, the respite centers have opened with little notice to the surrounding communities.) I was told to “donate to Red Cross” or “the approved drop-off location for Manhattan at 518 W. 168th St.” 

Tables will be outside during specific hours a few times a week with a Free Store of donated items.
If you’d like to help, donations of adult clothes (there are no children or infants at this location), bedding and towels, backpacks, and toiletries are welcome during four upcoming drop-off dates. Items can be brought to the office of State Assemblymember Harvey Epstein at 107-109 Avenue B at Seventh Street on the following dates and times: 

• Thursday, June 1, 3-5:30 p.m. 
• Tuesday, June 6, 10 a.m.-2 p.m. 
• Thursday, June 8, 3-5:30 p.m. 
• Tuesday, June 13, 10 a.m.-2 p.m.


  1. Thank you, Stacie, both for your leadership in coordinating help for people in such desperate need and also for providing this important information to the community. You are a treasure. Thanks also to EV Grieve for publishing this article.

    1. 100% this. Stacey you ARE a treasure and EVGrieve is a wonderful resource and force of good! ❤️

  2. Thank you for posting this information. I have some things I would like to donate, although it feels like a drop in the bucket.

    Does Tompkins Square Park still have free Wifi?

  3. Can we donate food?

  4. It's been so confusing about how to help. I was told La Plaza Cultural Garden was accepting donations, but when I went there nobody knew anything about it. I had some professional hospital sponge bath pads and packaged underwear that I just went to St Brigit's with and dropped off. Glad to hear Assemblymember Epstein's office has stepped in. The City needs to get it together. Thank you very much for this post and the information. The East Village welcomes and embraces these migrants!

  5. Hopefully someone will direct them to the corner of ave a and 7th this morning where used clothing is being distributed.

  6. Does the church on 9th and Ave B with the garden have Wi-Fi to share?

  7. Wow what a fantastic news scoop and heartwarming story. This is the kindest and most hopeful story I have read all year. Staci Joy we love you for this. Looks to me like whatever people say about Mayor Adams he definitely acts like a real Christian.

  8. Back "home"? What are they doing here if they already have a home?

  9. STACIE JOY, thank you for your excellent and in-depth reporting on this situation. You are, as is so often the case, the eyes and ears of the community, providing facts and valuable images so that we can see what's happening. I'm sorry the situation at St. Brigid's is such a cluster-f&ck.

    @John Penley: You must be referring to a type of Christianity I have never heard about. Eric Adams is good friends with the "bling bishop" and that really says it all. You won't see "His Majesty Eric the Wanna-be Great" anywhere near St. Brigid's; nope, he'll show up in a week or two, when he can bask in the glow of his own enormous ego.

    Meanwhile, Adams has proven again (as if we needed more proof) that he and his administration are not up to the demands of their jobs.
    Imagine turning away food from EVLOVESNYC?!

  10. I think people who are critical of my comment who are afraid to sign their names are cowards. FYI the mayor made this happen and is doing all he can to make it work.

  11. Jesus actually had a lot to say about welcoming Immigrants and none of the quotes sound like the Illegals message you hear on WABC radio from Curtis Sliwa and others and from the NY Post and other hateful right wingers.........https://sojo.net/22-bible-verses-welcoming-immigrants

  12. Wow, this is such surprising info - had no idea a shelter is in our midst! Would very much like to donate clothing and/or blankets. Thank you for this info!

  13. Are there both men and women at this facility? Need to know what clothes to bring…

  14. To 2:14,

    There are men and women here... (no children).

  15. Thank you indeed - this is extraordinarily valuable information that few of us would ever have been aware of without your reporting. (I enjoy all of your reporting, including on events and people and places that are just fun to read about, but you have truly outdone yourself now.)

  16. I tried to dropoff clothing + blankets on sunday but was told to take it to the salvation army. gotta love bureaucracy!

  17. To John Pentley:

    This is my real name. Stuy Town lifer who still lives here. Unlike you who moved to Vegas 10 years ago. Active member (I'm a building leader) in the Stuyvesant Town/Peter Cooper Village Tenants Association. I have been fighting for housing justice forever. Listed at this blog as a contributor. Immaculate Conception and Stuy HS grad. Adams, a landlord, your so-called "Christian" who has approved (by his appointments to the RGB Board) the highest yearly RGB increases in 10 years now twice in a row? Who said this at his Memorial Day speech with a ZERO mention of fascism? Using a Jefferson quote?

    "You water the tree of freedom with your blood,” Adams said. “We sit under the shade of that tree of freedom protected from the hot rays of socialism and communism and destruction"

    Hot rays of socialism? This is your hero?

    Edmund J. Dunn

  18. In a few weeks Mayor Adams can also set them up down the block on 14th street. Immaculate Conception School will be closing In a few weeks. Plenty of space there. All I see is dollar signs for catholic charities.

  19. Do you know where the centers with children are? We have lots of kids clothes and diapers for donation. Thanks

  20. Sorry everyone typo. S/B "Penley".

  21. Merci Ms Joy for all your efforts.
    And what a challenge to establish 20 or more sites like this, without much government assistance.
    Thanks to everyone involved!

  22. Thanks for this report. The church at the corner of 9th and B also has an outdoor fridge pantry for donated food.

    1. Yes. But the people staying at the center receive a lot of good supplied by the city. The neighbors effected by inflation need the donations . Each time I put items in I meet a neighbor who says thank you I needed this food

  23. no way to know this without EVG. amazing work Stacie and co.

  24. @3:08pm: THANK YOU, MR. DUNN, for your comment; I agree with everything you said, and you said it very well.

    I'm also well aware that Penley doesn't live anywhere near here. He is a 'verbal carpetbagger' on here, IMO. He's very opinionated about this community, while not being a part of this community at all in real life. This is especially offensive b/c he doesn't suffer in any respect from Eric Adams' BS, but he admires and adulates the Adams shit-show *from afar*!

    Not sure what Penley's "in" with this blog is, but he always gets his say, while comments that disagree with him frequently don't get published.

    1. I live here for 25 years, and I'm voting for Adams, with all his flaws, again. People forget how close we were to getting that toll Andrew Young...

  25. We really should put more effort in helping our own citizens first

  26. I had no idea. Thank you for sharing this information.

  27. GReat info!! Well done Stacie and EVG!

  28. District 1 (EV/LES) schools has been sending this poster out each week, if you are looking also for families/children:

    Items we are collecting:
    New/gently used clothing (kids and adult sizes)
    Shoes(Kids and adult sizes)
    Toys & Books
    New gently used strollers

    Items can be dropped off at
    PS 20
    166 Essex Street (& Houston), New York NY
    (212) 254-9577

  29. Stacie Joy and EV Grieve have done it once again! THIS is the kind of first-person participant coverage we need on the LES: Not just reporting about an issue, but getting INVOLVED and DOING something to make a positive difference.

    Thank you for your amazing public service!

    - Chris Flash


  30. Fantastic story. Our premier local fourth estate rises to the occasion once more.

    @3:08pm Penley has real history in the neighborhood and was priced out.

    They can't accept walk in donations because they don't have the ability to vet the donations at the door. Everyone means well but there are food restrictions etc and, okay, maybe sometimes people don't mean well. I mean, there's a bit of anti-refugee sentiment to go around and that side does attract fringe psycho wackos. Also single, not batched, items are not going to be enough to distribute to everyone at a shelter so distribution is how? Better to have a donation hub and the city sort through, verify and batch items.

    @Edmund J. Dunn - ICS and Stuy represent! I doubt Adams was disparaging FDR socialism with that boiler plate speech. The argument can be made that there has to be a balance at the Rent Guidelines Board under the current standard New York City boot of big real estate. There are small unit owners that get slammed when there's no increase because everything else increases. Fix all of housing, yes! but Adams has to administer the city as it is and he's not a "to the barricades!" Mayor. DeBlasio had more of that, in many ways I disagreed with, and was still firmly a creature of the boot. Gotta go back to Dinkins for "socialist" actions beyond tinkering.

    And you can't disparage fascism in a city that elected Rudy twice.

  31. This is so upsetting. Thank you for the coverage, Stacie.

    I find that most people who say "we need to help our own first" miraculously discover when the time comes to help our own that somehow they're not worthy of help, either.

  32. To 9.30 PM. I don't know where to begin on your anonymous post. But let me try. One thing I do agree with John Penley (BTW, I know his history, thank you) is that it would be nice, if you are going to post here to address my post where I give my real name, to provide your own real name.

    1. "There are small unit owners that get slammed when there's no increase because everything else increases." This is the usual suspect REBNY talking point that has been proven to be bogus over and over again. Adams uses it all the time. And forever that the Mayor, whoever that may be, appoints the RGB Board without any other approval needed, is a major conflict of interest.
    2. "I doubt Adams was disparaging FDR socialism with that boiler plate speech." Have you seen the MAGA/Right Wing response to this? They are coming in their pants.
    3. "And you can't disparage fascism in a city that elected Rudy twice." I do not have a clue what this means.

    This migrant temporary housing issue is a complex/heartbreaking one and despite having local charity outreach, will need some out of the box professional thinking on how to address it. Harvey Epstein, who I know personally, being restrained and then tossed out as per Stacie Joy's part II post to this story, shows the dysfunction of the Adams administration. Let's hope that the adults will soon be in charge.

  33. Sounds like a real shit show! I am glad these migrants at least have some shelter... Meager though it may be. Those cots hurt my back just looking at them. Does anyone know where I can look to see a full list of acceptable items to donate on those 4 special drop-off dates? Will they accept Tylenol bottles for example? Because I really wanna donate some kind of pain management! -Rachael

  34. Thanks for the reporting. I live down the street and welcome asylum seekers in the neighborhood. I had a long chat with six of the French-speaking Mauritanians. One of the great dilemmas they face is not having temporary work permits while their claims are processed. An electrician and several merchants said they had depleted their remaining financial resources during the journey, and now hoped to find a way to earn an honest living.

  35. Heard the city is being hush hush because there are now showers and hence this does not meet the unreasonable "Right to Shelter" criteria. That's why you don't see migrants bedding down in churches and synagogues, as they do in other places. Because there are no showers and sprinkler systems. The city and Adams admin is currently hamstrung by so many laws intended to help prevent squalid homeeless shelters, but which now are very much impeding the ability to house the 1000s of migrants arriving every day. Soccer season will be CANCELLED for thousands of kids across the City due to them taking over the Randalls Island playing fields. (This after they had sports cancelled during Covid). They have taken over the McCarren Park rec center, and another in Queens. And now all these Catholic schools... So right now, the city is housing migrants on the backs of our kids! Not cool or fair or wise and Adams will likely take the fall for it. Wake up, NYC!


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