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.
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.
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.
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.