Thursday, February 22, 2024

Addressing the asylum seeker crisis; city to update Community Board 3 next week

Photos and reporting by Stacie Joy

On Feb. 9, a few dozen city administrators, local elected officials and community leaders came together for a 90-minute meeting to discuss the ongoing crisis of serving asylum seekers at the former St. Brigid School.

The gathering occurred before a public meeting that Community Board 3 is hosting this Tuesday evening, Feb. 27. More about that session is below.

Dustin Ridener, special projects administrator for NYC Emergency Management (NYCEM), described the Feb. 9 get-together as a "small, focused gathering of invited advocates and stakeholders [that] aims to explore collaborative strategies with the community to enhance the support provided to asylum seekers, [to] find more effective and meaningful ways to assist New York City's newest arrivals." 

There were few clear takeaways in the end, though many of the invited had opinions on what has been taking place the last nine months on the corner of Seventh Street and Avenue B and the immediate area. St. Brigid served as a respite center for asylum seekers for several months last year. Starting in October, the facility has been used as a reticketing center — the only one in the city

Since then, the situation here is only getting worse,  as more and more asylum seekers are reaching their 30-day limits at shelters across New York City, and they line up in the cold outside St. Brigid so they can be placed back into new shelters. (We outlined the challenges here.)

NYCEM Commissioner (and East Village resident) Zach Iscol stated that they want to change the narrative "from people in need to people we need." 

"What can be done in the East Village [can] provide a model on how things are done," he said.

Mammad Mahmoodi, co-founder of East Village Loves NYC, the nonprofit that provides food and resources to people in need, including asylum seekers, suggested a name change from a reticketing center, "as it does everything except reticket."

He said EV Loves NYC has been providing 2,000 meals three times a week to asylum seekers, and that Trinity Lower East Side on Ninth Street and Avenue B has been providing 600 meals every weekday — and that no one has received funding.

EV Loves NYC co-founder Sasha Allenby brought up clothing and warming centers, especially for female asylum seekers with no hats, gloves, shoes, or warm clothing. She asked about attention for at-risk populations, people who are "literally freezing." 

The group discussed putting a system in place to identify needs and supply specific items to those folks, but no concrete plans were made.
Another point of conversation: porta potties.

As we first reported on Jan. 9, the city removed the three portable toilets from Tompkins Square Park. The porta potties were in poor shape and had been vandalized, and officials figured the same thing would happen to any replacements.

For the last month and a half, anyone who needs to use a restroom while in Tompkins has been relieving themselves in and around the park.

Paul D'Amore, chief of operations of the Department of Parks & Recreation in Manhattan, told the group that "no decision on porta potties will be made until the spring." Several people made clear there was a need for them, prompting D'Amore and Deputy Chief of Operations Ralph Musolino to agree to discuss the issue and get back to the group. 

The NYCEM pointed out that seven additional portable toilets were brought into the courtyard behind St. Brigid's and that any asylum seeker with a wristband can use them if accompanied to the area by a security escort from the facility. (We checked in with people in line at St. Brigid on the way home from the meeting and learned there were mixed messages about these toilets. Some people reported being able to access the facilities, while others said they could not.) 

The meeting concluded with a plan to reconvene to discuss the next steps. 

Afterward, EV Loves NYC's Sasha Allenby told us, "It was good to highlight the issues, but we really need to focus more on the solutions to them."

She continued: "An easy starting point would be the porta potties in the park. These are a legal requirement and should be an easily solvable issue. We also need real action on the vulnerability of the single women who are arriving."

NYCEM to address Community Board 3 

On Tuesday evening, NYCEM's Commissioner Zach Iscol "will update the community on the agency's asylum-seeker operations and community engagement efforts within the confines of CB3," per the meeting invite.
Iscol is expected to speak at 7 p.m. Only board members can ask questions at the meeting, but residents may submit questions via email by tomorrow (Feb. 23) for Iscol to address. 

The meeting will be in person at PS 20, 166 Essex St. at Houston, and streamed on YouTube here.  

Previously on EV Grieve: 


Anonymous said...

Thank you for this information. I had no idea this meeting had taken place and plan to attend the next one.

I really don't understand how the city is getting away with not supplying toilets in the park. Regardless of the asylum seeker situation, toilets are a basic necessity for everyone.

Anonymous said...

I find it highly ironic that the East village, of all the neighborhoods in NYC, appears to be doing the most for these people - willingly and with empathy; while basically receiving nothing but grief in return from the city bureaucracy.

Mind you, the EV has always been one of the "dumping grounds" for city services geared towards the more unfortunate souls of NY society. Yet, East Villagers are not deterred from trying to deal with these issues - while never having whined about it with any of this "NIMBY" nonsense of some higher incomes hoods.

A big round of thanks to those people who go out of there way to show kindness and humanity to others. This hood rules!

Anonymous said...

Move the St. Bridget's facilities to GRACIE MANSION and watch how quickly solutions are found for ALL these issues; your head will spin.

Dan said...

Thank you for the reporting EV and Stacie.

This meeting, done last minute and under the cloak of darkness is typical of how the City handles everything.

Neighbors have been doing so much heavy lifting, the compassion by the hood has been personally inspiring. THANK YOU FRIENDS!

Anonymous said...

The prioritization of economic migrants over the needs of residents who cannot keep up with skyrocketing cost of living is an embarrassment. One of the unhoused neighbors in TSP told me he was better off forfeiting his citizenship and claiming asylum. I couldn't disagree with him.

Garrett said...

First of all, we owe a debt of gratitude to all the stakeholders & volunteers who have stepped up to help. But let’s not kid ourselves. We are in a “Just OK Place” because the largely West African migrants who have been sent to St. Brigid’s are lawful & respectful. However none of our electeds have been able to determine why that particular group was sent to St. Brigid’s. If that demographic shifts, then the East Village & Tompkins Square are in a lot of trouble. I fear that may not be a popular opinion and I’m wrong. But as a long time champion & advocate for that park I can say we are barely holding on by a thread. Tompkins has long been a powder keg. Adams is playing with fire putting the shelter & migrant re-ticketing center on the park

Anonymous said...

Thank you for thoughtful coverage EVG. Important to note this "crisis" is used to create chaos by Adams and give him a national platform, right out of the GOP playbook. Look at all the policy changes of the last year. Anything that helps immigrants, down to portapotties, IDNYC cards, and a flexible schedule with no curfews at shelters so they can work, have all been taken away. Police aggression to the immigrants as reported in EVG is up. Enrollment centers for residential id cards have been quietly shutdown. (Gothamist: "The city-issued ID cards preceded a 2019 state law that made state-issued IDs and driver’s licenses [and bank accounts] available to undocumented immigrants... The city’s official municipal ID cards were among de Blasio’s crowning achievements, and allowed New York City residents to access city services regardless of their immigration status.) Commenter above is correct about the EV being a dumping ground for the City.

Anonymous said...

What exactly do you mean by "if that demographic shifts?" Is there any evidence to suggest that West Africans are more "lawful & respectful" than any other group?

Anonymous said...

11:46 - it's embarrassing that the city is failing either of those groups. No need to pit the poor against each other while the rich continue to feast.

Anonymous said...

I commented that we’ve been lucky — other than an occasional dust up or yesterday’s need for an ambulance after a cellphone robbery. Other places where a large amount of the homeless & migrants congregate have not be so lucky — that’s all.

Anonymous said...

Where would our community be without EV Grieve? Thanks for the updates. Other local news sources fail to deliver the information with detail as you do. As someone who lives on 7 and C, I find the migrant situation untenable for everyone. The EV cannot be the only neighborhood in the entire city within the five boroughs to facilitate their immediate needs and care. Other communities in NYC need to step up and help if given the chance. Adams is virtually useless. I wouldn't be surprised if either he steps down from his role or is forced to resign.

2ndAveSilverPanther said...

Feb 22 @ 1:18 PM - All the evidence I need that these migrants are lawful & respectful is available by observing the, hopefully, temporary West African guests in our beloved community. Operating under extreme stress and dire circumstances, these migrants are keeping their shit together, as I often see them traveling around the hood. As opposed to another "demographic" - those housed in the Times Square area, I believe hailing primarily from Venezuela. I've donated several large bags of quality, but no longer needed clothing, and am proud of my neighbors for their humane responses.

Anonymous said...

It's unfair of the state to expect NYC neighborhoods to absorb an influx of migrants who have no where to go.

Anonymous said...

The whole situation is horrible with no end in sight. I have no anger at these people who are just doing what our government has allowed to happen. I'm not getting political because I think there are too many to blame all around. I respect my neighbors immensely for organizing and doing what they can in a horrible situation.

My concern is we've lost our green space at east river park. Not that Tompkins is a replacement but it's the only other public park. Come summer it's not going to be as great when we all get pushed into this space without organization of it.

mvd said...

The migrants are being fed (mostly by the goodwill of groups like EV loves NYC and Trinity Lutheran) and (poorly) sheltered. What are they getting that unhoused citizens in NYC are not?

Anonymous said...

The park has become a disaster. Sick of human waste around the area. Tired of the congestion and lines. My children no longer play in the playground. It is only going to be worse as the weather warms.

marjorie said...

Stacie and Grieve, thank you SO MUCH for this essential reporting. Usually I'm irked when your hard work is stolen by other news outlets, as it so often is, but in this case I hope it will be. The city should be shamed by a zillion sources for treating human beings this way. (And: NO TOILETS? Despicable.) Mayor Adams is far worse than ineffectual — he's toxic.

Thank you, also, to our neighbors who are doing so much heavy lifting, feeding these hungry, freezing people without recompense.

Anonymous said...

Yes. All of this. We avoid it now. Big loss for our kids.

Anonymous said...

I have my fingers crossed for the Tuesday Community Board meeting. I wonder if the migrants get any information when they receive meals at the park? For example, anyone with a wristband should not be denied the toilets at the re-ticketing center. And there is another warming center Wednesdays 4-7 at st marks church on 10th st. Are all the people in the park waiting for the center or has it just become known that meals and other donations can be found there randomly so more people congregate? Perhaps it’s just the times I walk by but I don’t see the long lines anymore. I do wish our newcomers would be encouraged to enjoy other areas of the park as well. I saw some men playing soccer in the empty portion of the skate park and in the center by the Hare Krishna tree. These are often underutilized areas so it’s nice to see them being used.
We still go to the playgrounds on Ave B. We are bummed that many friends don’t seem to gather there very often anymore. It was always a given that we would see a couple of people we know at any given time. Truly a
Village of families—that’s how we’ve met all our kid’s friends.
I will also say that it would be nice if it wasn’t so crowded directly next to the playground gates. I think everyone is used to the entrances being easy to manuever—-it’s a park , not expected to feel like a main artery of the neighborhood. So I do understand that some people may grumble about it. Plus we no longer go into the other areas to play with the leaves since there was already so much dog feces and urine this past fall.
Our interactions with the men have been fine. Though if other families have had different experiences I *will* believe them as well, though no one has mentioned a particular story to us, so I dunno… We try to make eye contact as we walk through and nod and often they say hello to us as we do back. I let my child decide if they want to hold my hand or not, just as we usually do in the park. One time we approached with our stroller and an intense soccer game was taking place next to the gates. One man hollered to stop as they saw us and opened the gate for us.
I guess all of this to say that our experiences have been OK so far but things definitely do need to improve for all neighbors, new and old; it’s not tenable. And it’s clear more sanitation pick-up and more toilets are needed. The city needs to provide more services if they are bringing so many people to the one little intersection.

Anonymous said...

Seems like no end in sight.