Photos and text by Stacie Joy
Part two in our ongoing coverage of the asylum seeker
respite center in the East Village
respite center in the East Village
An asylum seeker asked me where he could get a job. He said his fellow asylum seekers are asking everywhere and are desperate to work — any kind of work.
Two people showed me immigration paperwork that had them set to appear in Texas and Philadelphia, respectively, tomorrow. I use Google translate to help me with complicated translation — and they ask how far Texas is and if it’s possible to “get a ticket there.”
Several people (most from Colombia) show me paperwork for BI SmartLINK. This immigration phone app can monitor them and provide case management, but they don’t have Wi-Fi or cellular service, so they can’t make their scheduled phone appointments. I asked some local businesses near the site — the former St. Brigid's School on Seventh Street and Avenue B — if they could share Wi-Fi passwords, but they all declined.
I am also told that meals didn’t show up again yesterday, and folks are hungry. C&B Café donates some items: croissants, focaccia, donuts, sourdough — and the bags are empty before everyone gets something to eat. I contacted EVLovesNYC again to plan for another Sunday delivery — but their funds are dwindling. They believe they can do 100 meals for Sunday, and we talk about how to maximize meal planning on a budget.
At this point, the site is being monitored 24/7 by officers from the 9th Precinct. None have been inside the site, and they tell me that the orders have come from high up the command chain, above the Precinct’s commanding officer — to monitor all the respite center sites, not just the one in the East Village. I ask if they can turn the flashing lights off, which they do. They seem mostly interested in being helpful but unsure exactly how to do so.
I had spotted a sign warning about a “men’s shelter” (misspelled as a “men shetler”) opening up in Tompkins Square Park, at the playground near Seventh Street and Avenue B. I ask the officers if they expect protests, but they say no; they have no reason to believe there will be any problems. They just want to make sure everything is calm on the street.
They keep him restrained even after they are made aware that he’s a local elected official representing the district the center is located in. Epstein explains that Mayor Adam’s senior advisor Diane Savino made the appointment for him, but no one seems inclined to allow him in, and he is escorted out. To date, he hasn’t been allowed to see the facility.
On Monday, we take all the community-donated clothes and supplies and set up a Free Store outside the center. Nearly 100 of the asylum seekers line up to receive supplies, and in a touching twist, they all step aside and announce “women first,” and the women come and claim their clothes and supplies before the men. I am charmed by that.
One staffer lets me in to drop off the rest of the clothing, and I notice something optimistic: The coffeepot — previously deemed an unacceptable item — has finally been set up and is clearly being used by everyone. I smile; it’s a good sign.
Items can be brought to Epstein’s office 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.
Previously on EV Grieve: