Photos and reporting by Stacie Joy
It has been a never-ending challenge to navigate the red tape and bureaucracy since the city quietly established the East Village respite center for asylum seekers in late May, but we can report some much-welcomed progress.
This past Wednesday, Father Seán Connolly from St. Brigid/St. Emeric met with MedRite reps and the NYC Mesh Wi-Fi install team as we strategized how best to get equipment in place to provide access to the hundreds of refugees and asylum seekers at the former St. Brigid School on Seventh Street and Avenue B.
We toured the roof (where we all stared at the thick yellow wildfire smoke and smog that coated the sky), the electrical room, and the basement and looked in on some classrooms (currently being used as sleeping quarters lined with cots) with window access.
Then, just when I think we are ready for the Wi-Fi installation, the site supervisor alerted us that approval has not been granted — despite the earlier letter drafted by Father Seán and the church. So the NYC Mesh team is back to square one.
Paul Gale, a board member at the East Village Community Coalition and tech wizard co-creator of the peak-pandemic era What's Open in the East Village site, bought and donated a T-Mobile hotspot that someone can plug in at a nearby location, and we awaited word on the efficacy of that.
We disbanded for the day and prepared for Thursday's planned distribution, although the ominous and dangerous air quality casts doubt on this.
By the following afternoon, the air quality improved enough that we felt safe to do the distribution, although we scaled back the duration and size. While volunteers ran clothing and supplies from the drop-off site at 107 Avenue B, I got everyone on board for the planned Free Store: Site supervisors, MedRite staffers, OEM and security personnel, and officers from the 9th Precinct who are stationed at the site for round-the-clock police presence as mandated by the Mayor.
The asylum seekers helped the volunteers set up the tables and then patiently waited in line as we got items sorted. We had fewer people today due to the atmospheric conditions. But by now, the system is in place and we had items sorted into categories quickly. Bags up front so each shopper can fill their sacks with needed supplies. Clothes, then bedding and bath, followed by personal care items. Shoes line the wall with a chair nearby so folks can try them on for size.
At the end of the night, she showed me a Google-translated note on her phone thanking us.
We also heard back from the precinct officers trying to get the donated supplies to the Police Academy Gym respite center site in Gramercy Park, but they have, once again, been turned away. An officer lamented, "There has to be a way to get this stuff to the people who need it."
Meanwhile, the NYC Mesh team mapped out a plan to install equipment on the rectory of the church next door on Avenue B, which will allow access on the courtyard and some of the north-facing windows of the school. The team, helmed by Brian Hall, works for hours getting it up and running, and by the time we left at 8 p.m., dozens of folks have signed on and are receiving service!
Now limited Wi-Fi is available in two locations — the back of the building with Mesh and in front of the building with Paul's T-Mobile hotspot. This admittedly limited WiFi, which doesn't stretch into the central portion of the building, will allow the asylum seekers to make their immigration calls and check-ins and also message family and friends.
If you'd like to volunteer, the next — and last planned distribution on the calendar — is tomorrow, Tuesday, from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. Please show up at 107 Avenue B during that time frame to assist.
Thank you to all the community members who have taken the time to donate or help out — the effort is truly appreciated.
Previously on EV Grieve: