Text and reporting by Stacie Joy
According to multiple sources, the former St. Brigid School on Seventh Street and Avenue B no longer serves as a respite center for asylum seekers.
Sources said that the last asylum seekers left the school, which the Archdiocese of New York closed in the spring of 2019, on Friday, with a handful remaining until Saturday.
Mammad Mahmoodi, co-founder and executive director of East Village Loves NYC, who has been feeding neighbors in need since the pandemic, including asylum seekers, spoke with several of the former St. Brigid residents. He said the remaining asylum seekers were relocated in smaller groups to other respite centers around the five boroughs. Most of them were not aware of the move to new quarters until the day it happened.
Father Seán Connolly from St. Brigid/St. Emeric said the city's lease with the Archdiocese ends in mid-September. However, church officials said they were not included in any of the city's deliberations for use of the school.
The site was empty over the weekend, and with sources stating just a few security personnel remained on duty inside. Asylum seekers — adults only — started coming to Seventh Street and Avenue B in late May for short-term stays. The space was said to accommodate 350 people, who slept on cots in classrooms and other open areas throughout the building.
As we previously reported, the city seemed ill-prepared to meet the needs of the new arrivals, primarily Spanish or French speakers, many of whom were from Venezuela, Ecuador and Mauritania. Many people showed up on-site via MTA buses without shoes, and nearly everyone possessed only the clothes they wore, lacking any personal belongings. The only provisions provided by officials were thin blankets adorned with the City of New York crest and small personal care kits.
Those fortunate enough to have phones were eager to locate a Wi-Fi connection to communicate with loved ones, yet the center had no access. In mid-June, after an unsuccessful effort to get the city to approval Wi-Fi for the space, Father Seán, the NYC Mesh Wi-Fi team and Paul Gale, a board member at the East Village Community Coalition, mapped out a plan to install equipment on the rectory of the church next door on Avenue B that provided access on the courtyard and some of the north-facing windows of the school and provided the asylum seekers with much-needed internet access.
Without a transparent chain of command, navigating the red tape and bureaucracy to provide the asylum seekers with food and other items was a never-ending challenge. Despite visible proof that the city needed help, they did not appear keen on accepting it. Some site staffers said they were reprimanded for assisting with providing aid.
Locals helped organize several clothing-and-supply distributions, and many East Village residents graciously donated a variety of items as well as their time. An interfaith coalition of local religious institutions also assembled a distribution outside the school. Cafe Mogador and C&B Cafe provided food, too... as did community group East Village Loves NYC. (EV Loves NYC later provided meals to asylum seekers at the Roosevelt Hotel in Midtown.)
Throughout the multiple distributions outside St. Brigid's this summer, many of the asylum seekers expressed gratitude and thanks for the generous help of the East Village residents who showed their support.
An ongoing crisis
According to various published reports, the city had 59,300 migrants in its care across 206 sites as of Aug. 20. Between Aug. 14 and 20, another 3,100 asylum seekers arrived in NYC, bringing the tally to 104,400 since the spring.
The city and state continue to spar (background here and here) over housing asylum seekers outside the five boroughs. Both sides say they need a better federal response.
In a statement Friday from the Mayor's office: "New York City has been left largely alone to deal with a national crisis that demands difficult decision-making. But let's be clear: the sites we are now finding are the only options left. This situation demands a broader state and national solution."
Previously on EV Grieve:
• Missed meal deliveries and a need for basics: the developing situation at the East Village respite center for asylum seekers
• Despite the city's endless bureaucracy, East Village residents continue to aid asylum seekers at the former St. Brigid School