Thursday, June 8, 2023

Despite the city's endless bureaucracy, East Village residents continue to aid asylum seekers at the former St. Brigid School

Photos and reporting by Stacie Joy 

Last week, EVG reader (and parent of Miss Kita the Wonder Dog) Jose Garcia messaged the site and offered to do a Costco run with his husband to purchase supplies for the asylum seekers temporarily housed at the former St. Brigid School

So the three of us (Kita stayed home) spent this past Sunday afternoon trying to find inexpensive sandals, shoes, T-shirts, underwear, and socks at the 125th Street Costco location.
Upon returning to the school on Seventh Street and Avenue B with our newly purchased supplies, we started handing them to grateful asylum seekers outside. We didn't have enough for everyone, and I promised we'd return on the next distribution day.

At that point, Sunday's site supervisor came out and yelled at me, "You can't do this! You just can't do this! You have to stop!" The previous clothing drive had ongoing issues: fights between city employees and the state Assemblymember's office that led to someone calling the police. And problems working with all the different abbreviated groups inside the center: OEM, NYCEM, MedRite and the Mayor's Office. 

There isn't a clear chain of command and no transparency. Despite clear and visible proof that the city needs help, they do not appear keen on accepting it. Some site staffers report being reprimanded for accepting donations or assisting with providing aid.

Signs went up at the center announcing that visitors and donations (not to mention weapons) were not permitted inside the school.
Tuesday's distribution ran more smoothly, primarily due to cooperation carefully forged and negotiated with the new MedRite site supervisor and a team of East Village volunteers who spent some sweaty hours sorting clothes and supplies and helping distribute them to those in need.
There was also an assist from some hired security team members from inside the center and help from the refugees themselves. 

It was a successful event, and people could source most of what was needed. I was told there were 237 people inside at the time of distribution (maximum capacity is 350), and I guestimate we saw about 150 of them in line for supplies.

During Tuesday's volunteer distribution, NYC Mesh and Verizon both showed up (again), offering free Wi-Fi installation for the site — a crucial need for the asylum seekers eager to be able to contact loved ones. But the NYC Mesh and Verizon reps were turned away (again), with officials citing something about "proper procedure" and a need for authorization. 

However, it's unclear just who authorizes this (or anything) at this respite center. A rep from the city's IT team was onsite as a volunteer, and she is trying some outreach, and we are trying to establish a pipeline with the Mayor's Office. Meanwhile, Father Seán Connolly from St. Brigid's/St. Emeric on Avenue B and Eighth Street wrote a letter requesting access to install equipment.
Everyone remains persistent and optimistic, but the endless bureaucracy and lack of transparency or assistance wear people down. 

An official "from immigration" was onsite Tuesday asking asylum seekers in line if they want to be sent to Albany or points north with the same offer as before (housing, beds, a shower, working papers and a job). However, word is spreading that this may not be factual. I didn't see anyone taking them up on the offer. 

We had supplies left over that were slated for the Police Academy Gym site on 21st Street (another local Respite Center). Still, we couldn't get any cooperation between that site supervisor or workers at the location. Officers from the 9th Precinct tried to assist with the delivery, but they, too, were rebuffed. After several frantic calls, we found a home for the donated items at the Delancey Spanish Seventh-day Adventist Church on Forsyth Street, which will pass them on to the unhoused locals they work with.

If you’d like to donate or volunteer, another drive is scheduled today (June 8) from 3 to 5:30 p.m. Please just show up at 107 Avenue B at Seventh Street to volunteer or to drop off selected merchandise: men's pants, shorts, and sweats are especially in need. And, as always, chancletas in all sizes. New boxers-briefs, backpacks, and jackets/sweaters are also highly requested.

While volunteers are needed to sort the new donations at 107 Avenue B, there may not be an outdoor distribution if the smoky conditions remain. 
Future drop-off date: Tuesday, June 13, 10 a.m.-2 p.m.

Previously on EV Grieve


Kristine said...

Big thanks to the security guard at the center’s door this last Sunday 6/4.
I left a flyer for Food Not Bombs (free vegan meals Sunday 4:30pm at Tompkins), and they sent us ~75 people!
We ran out of food in the first 30 mins.
Lately we’ve been struggling to get enough produce from our usual source, so we’re looking for new sources to supplement that- we’d love to feed more asylum-seekers on Sundays!
If anyone has a solid local lead for large produce donations, please reach out on our insta/TikTok/FB.

Anonymous said...

It must be very frustrating to have such roadblocks when trying to help.

Gar said...

Could you reach out to the union da greenmarket organizer to see if there's excess unwanted produces at end of day from
Vendors? Just an idea

Anonymous said...

Eric Adams's New York: A Kafka-esque place where no one in charge is in charge, and even the police can't get a clear answer out of anyone "in charge".

Kristine said...

Thanks for the idea, we’re gonna give it a shot.

Complicating factor is that we cannot use fridge space at Catholic Worker, where we cook.

We make do and pick up donations a few hours before cooking starts, but the inability to store produce overnight limits our sourcing :/

Anonymous said...

Let me know if you want to make the phone calls, I could help with that part ;)

Anonymous said...

What's the best way to reach you?

Anonymous said...

"At that point, Sunday's site supervisor came out and yelled at me, "You can't do this! You just can't do this! You have to stop!""

ISTM this is literally what South Park satirized in the 'respect my authority!' scenes...hand someone the polyester pants of authority (mirror shades optional) and they'll run with it.

Anonymous said...

Is it possible to drop off donations at another time if we can’t make it there today?

John Penley said...

Call 411 and send a message to Mayor Adams. If enough people do this you will get his attention and reference this story if you call.

Kristine said...

We’re LESFoodNotBombs on Instagram and Twitter- feel free to message us there!

Anonymous said...

I called the 1010 Wins news tip hotline and told them to read your report and do their own story about this. The person I talked to said they would do that.

Sarah said...

But, take untrained, inexperienced, not-particularly-qualified people, make them the face of a system that is byzantine on its best day, mix in a punitive attitude towards the migrants allegedly "destroying" the city, and you get petty tyrants who seek control over all else, including helping the people they're supposed to help.

Mike Paul said...

Thanks for helping people ☺️

Anonymous said...

Harvey Epstein's office is no longer taking donations, so does anyone know how to get donations to these people going forward? It doesn't sound like you can drop things off directly at the facility, and it also doesn't sound like the city agencies have organized themselves yet.

I'm wondering if a donation table could be set up in the park?