Showing posts with label St. Brigid School. Show all posts
Showing posts with label St. Brigid School. Show all posts

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: 

Monday, January 29, 2024

Amid an influx of asylum seekers in the East Village, elected officials urge the city to open more reticketing centers

Photos last week by Stacie Joy

City Council leaders say the Adams administration needs to create more reticketing centers in NYC to meet the demand created by the Mayor's 30- and 60-day shelter limit stays. 

The letter, signed by District 2 Councilmember Carlina Rivera, House Speaker Adrienne E. Adams, and Deputy Speaker Diana Ayala, calls the situation at the city's lone center, located at the former St. Brigid School on Seventh Street and Avenue B, "untenable and increasingly unmanageable." 

The lines here are only getting longer as more asylum seekers arrive here to reapply for a cot assignment or shelter location. Those in the line have been evicted due to the city's shelter limit, implemented late last year, which is 60 days for families and 30 days for individuals.

As previously reported, the long lines often result in many people being unable to enter before the site closes, forcing some to sleep outside the building or in Tompkins Square Park, where the city removed the public restrooms on Jan. 9.
Here's more from the letter: 
With more than one center and a consideration for locations in each borough, the City can ensure people do not stand on line in the cold without access to even basic facilities like bathrooms. Multiple locations would also ensure that people are closer to culturally competent, community-based programs and services. 

Volunteers with LESReady!, a Lower East Side nonprofit with organizing and service-provision experience, have identified four potential sites in Council District 2 alone that could support overflow pending the City's approval. It is important that we provide the same services available at St. Brigid's at these additional locations and ask that the managing agencies also do more to provide translation services for both those seeking asylum and the local police precincts who help with the crowds present. 
Currently, having one reticketing center has not only led to physical capacity concerns, it has created a burden on the adjacent local community and its public spaces. Resources are needed to keep up with quality of life issues. It appears that efficiency at St. Brigid's has been in decline, with travel hardships and the overall cost-effectiveness of the process in place in question. Public safety concerns have increased without a support network available even locally to those waiting. 
Line-cutting has been an ongoing issue. Other problems have been observed by officials and residents ... which likely prompted this newly posted Reticketing Center Code of Conduct. (The city published the Code in multiple languages.) 

The 18 points covered include "ignoring directions from staff and City partners" and "setting fire to anything."
The letter concludes with the Council leaders urging the city to act "quickly and compassionately in creating a better system for the thousands of people coming to St. Brigid's for assistance."

Since October, the former school has operated as a Reticketing Center overseen by the NYC Emergency Management (formerly the Office of Emergency Management or OEM).

According to published reports, the city has spent more than $3 billion on housing and services for asylum seekers since the spring of 2022. 

Tuesday, January 16, 2024

Observations on the growing humanitarian crisis with asylum seekers in the East Village

Photos and reporting by Stacie Joy
The faces of the asylum seekers have been blurred

A humanitarian crisis continues to unfold with no signs of letting up on this corner of the East Village.

Since October, the former St. Brigid School has operated as a Reticketing Center overseen by the NYC Emergency Management (formerly the Office of Emergency Management or OEM) on Seventh Street and Avenue B.

The lines have grown in recent weeks, stretching from Seventh Street, around the corner to Avenue B, and back down Eighth Street. Here, the people fleeing hardship in their home countries and seeking asylum await help. A majority of the asylum seekers here are from West African countries like Mauritania, Senegal, and the Gambia and are Muslim.

We've been writing about and observing what has occurred here since late May when St. Brigid served as a respite center. The situation has only gotten worse, exacerbated by the frigid winter temperatures.

What follows is an overview of the crisis.

The Challenges
As Vox pointed out, the crisis has deep roots. "The United States' immigration system has long been broken, amplifying an international humanitarian crisis, and the movement of migrants from the southern border into cities has highlighted and tested the system's many fault lines."

In NYC, a report from the Mayor's Office blamed a host of factors for the current crisis, including the lack of comprehensive federal immigration reform, Trump administration policies and overwhelmed immigration courts.

More than 100,000 migrants have arrived in the city over the last year. 
The Asylum Seekers
There are thousands of people maneuvering for a cot assignment or shelter location, with more arriving every day. 

After the Mayor’s 30-day and 60-day eviction notices went into effect late last year, more and more people have been pouring into the St Brigid's reticketing agency. (The city put the 30- and 60-day limits in place to free up shelter space, though some critics have said the policy is only causing more chaos.)

Women, children, and families are prioritized, so you will see mostly men at this center, although some women are in the line. This site, open only during the day (that is, no one can stay overnight, doors close at 7 p.m., and the site is locked up by 9 p.m.), process those looking for one of the few spaces available.
Some people return daily until a space opens up for them at a shelter or humanitarian relief center. People can also accept a free one-way ticket almost anywhere in the world. Right now, there are White House restrictions on Venezuela, but almost anywhere else is fair game. However, very few people select this option. 

If there's space, people can be sent to large sites like the cargo warehouse (Building 197) at JFK lined with cots or wait for a shelter or hotel space to become available. Since there are so few spaces, most people go to Bathgate in the Bronx, where they can sleep on the floor overnight. If there is a Code Blue weather emergency, the former Police Academy center on 20th Street in Gramercy Park will open, and people can stay in chairs overnight. 

People are hungry and need more clothing and supplies. The city does provide meals, or at least food, but often, as we have seen, the food is moldy, expired, or not in accordance with Halal dietary restrictions.  

On Saturday, those at the site received a plastic container with a hardboiled egg, a piece of bread with butter/jelly, and an orange. 
And there is never enough food. Mutual Aid groups like East Village Loves NYC have been working hard to provide hot and healthy meals to people. Still, they have been waiting for promised funding from the NYC Emergency Management. However, none has arrived.

After being strung along for months, EV Loves NYC cannot provide the meals needed. They depend on community contributions and are a 501(c)(3) nonprofit. We encourage residents to donate to groups like this that feed all people in need, as they are boots on the ground and have the volunteers, resources, and know-how to continue to provide support on a shoestring budget.

The Site 
The former St. Brigid School, which closed in the spring of 2019, is overflowing with people and operating way above capacity. Thousands of people are processed here, and the building's infrastructure and staff can't handle the influx.

Staff from NYC Emergency Management, teams from MedRite and security companies like Arrow and Mulligan, have difficulties every day with fights (cutting the line is a significant problem), sick individuals, and the endless flow of paperwork, translation services, and trying to cope with clearly desperate people who don't have any housing, food, clothing, personal care items or other necessary resources.

Getting work papers is almost impossible, so people work off the books or depend on governmental or community support. Site staff also have to deal with law enforcement and community members who are angry/upset and trying to help. 

The site cannot legally accept assistance from the community due to restrictions and risk-assessment issues like bedbugs, space, and the possibility of contaminated food.
City Services, Including the Parks Department and Sanitation
The additional work with the influx of people waiting in the park has caused stress. Workloads have trebled, and mitigating the trash and keeping the park clean has been tremendously difficult.
Law Enforcement
Police officials are fielding calls every day from angry residents about the asylum seekers. Complaints range from line-jumping fights (a daily, often hourly occurrence) to residents upset about men hanging out in or near the playgrounds along Avenue B in Tompkins Square Park. 
Some residents are also upset about the hundreds of refugees clogging the park, often sleeping in the area and urinating and defecating in public, a situation made worse after the city inexplicably removed the three porta potties — the park's only toilets — last Tuesday.

There have been incidents of violence reported inside the school and in the surrounding areas. New 9th Precinct Commanding Office Pam Jeronimo has made a concerted effort to have officers fluent in Wolof, Pulaar, and Arabic (as well as Spanish) on-site to assist in communication efforts.

The Church
St Brigid-St. Emeric on Avenue B at Eighth Street is part of the Archdiocese of New York. 

The Archdiocese leases the space at the school to the city for the reticketing site (formerly a HERRC). Rentals are usually on a six- or nine-month time frame. The church administrator, Father Seán Connolly, has no authority or oversight over the city's use of the space and has also expressed frustration with being unable to do more. He has participated in distributions and opened his doors for clothing drives. 

Ultimately, he says, he's "a steward of the space." 

Interfaith Coalition 
The neighborhood has an interfaith coalition of organizations, including representatives from Trinity Lower East Side, Middle Church, Graffiti Church, Hope Church and St. Brigid's/Most Holy Redeemer. They often participate in distributions and the sorting and storing of supplies. The community fridge outside Trinity on the corner of Ninth Street and Avenue B is a good spot for wrapped, labeled food donations for anyone needing a meal. 

Local Restaurants
Multiple local businesses, including C&B Cafe, Spice Brothers, 7th Street Burger, Café Mogador, Veselka, Cafe Chrystie, and others, have provided food, meals, snacks, and supplies for asylum seekers. Some work directly with kind-hearted and dedicated neighbors who hand out the food; others work with mutual aid groups like EV Loves NYC to provide bulk supplies (such as Halal meat). 

Local Elected Officials
State Assemblymember Harvey Epstein has attempted to distribute coats the office on the SE corner of Seventh Street and Avenue B received during recent drives but has been stymied by the number of people and the mob scene that ensues. 

Because there isn't an organized way to provide coats to the thousand-plus people waiting, these supplies have been going out in smaller, discreet distributions when someone is spotted without proper cold-weather clothing. All coat drive initiatives at this location have been paused. 

The City of New York 
There is a lack of leadership, money, and any clear path forward from the mayor and his office on down. It is clear that Federal funding is needed, and the city is at a breaking point in trying to manage the massive influx of refugees. 

During a town hall in September, Mayor Adams issued a dire warning: "Never in my life have I had a problem that I did not see an ending to. I don't see an ending to this. I don't see an ending to this. This issue will destroy New York City."

At the same time, there isn't any open communication channel with the Mayor's Office, and talks with NYC Emergency Management have remained ongoing and friendly but ultimately empty, as help has yet to arrive.

Community Members
Many residents have asked us how they can help. We see neighbors bring peanut butter and jelly sandwiches daily, collect money, and buy pizzas to serve, one slice at a time. Pooling cash among friends and relatives to bulk-order items in constant need. 

We also see people mobbed by hungry asylum seekers when too many people chase too few goods. It can be scary, and there have been situations that include assault and forcible touching.

Safety concerns exist when one person is doing a distribution, and hundreds of people swarm to receive supplies. There's no easy answer here as cooperation with the site, the city, law enforcement, and the church regarding food and supplies distribution is complicated and time-consuming. 

One way people have been having some success is to leave open totes of sweaters, coats, socks, etc., clearly labeled with signs saying Free, Gratis, Gratuit and allowing the asylum seekers to browse for needed items. (It's best to not put the items in garbage bags as they give the appearance of being trash.)

There are very few women in the line, so the overwhelming need is for men's clothing. Bulk items needed right now include gloves, socks, underwear, scarves and hats. These can be ordered in large numbers, and these items are always needed. They are small, easy to distribute, and less expensive than ordering thousands of winter coats. 

There are new people at the site every day. Some people return several days in a row waiting for a new cot assignment, but the need for supplies and food is ongoing. If you are uncomfortable handing out supplies alone, you can do one side-by-side with other distributions. 

EV Loves NYC will donate your new bulk-ordered items like gloves, hats, rain ponchos, and underwear. They cannot accept coats and oversized items right now. They are also overwhelmed and have an all-volunteer staff and request patience. 

You can watch their Instagram for planned dates and times going forward. They also work with other aid groups like NYC Migrant Solidarity and have a planned distribution at the Sixth Street Community Center between Avenue B and Avenue C every Sunday. 
[Spanish for "immigration is not easy"]

This is a humanitarian crisis with a lot of moving parts. Things are subject to change without advance notice, and often, no one is informed of the new rules until they are underway. 

There is a delicate dance of diplomacy and negotiation to get help to the needy without causing further difficulties for staff, residents, and officials — or for the volunteers and asylum seekers themselves.

A lot of frustration is expressed, and people always ask why this issue isn't being addressed. Ultimately, the mayor and the city need a plan going forward, and since there is no end in sight to the flow of refugees being sent here from the southern border, every day brings challenges.

Watching the community come together to help those in need has been heartwarming. Every day, we see asylum seekers using translator apps to express gratitude.
Find the EVG archives with more posts about the asylum seekers here.

Sunday, January 14, 2024

From the EVG archives: Asylum seekers at the former St. Brigid School

Photo last week by Stacie Joy

Admittedly, the search function and various templates on the Blogger platform make finding EVG posts older than a few days a little cumbersome. So, from time to time this year, we'll highlight and link to articles surrounding a topic. 

Today, we're starting with the ongoing coverage of asylum seekers at the former St. Brigid School on Seventh Street at Avenue B. 

On May 30 (link here), we were the first media outlet in the city to cover the school's use as a respite center (and, as far as we know, the only outlet with photos from inside the facility).

Subsequent coverage includes (complete list here):

EV Loves NYC looks for support and a partnership with the city to aid in feeding asylum seekers

Unfortunately, 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.

One way to help is to donate to East Village Loves NYC, the volunteer-run nonprofit that has helped feed people in need throughout the city since the early days of the pandemic. More details here.  

Monday, December 4, 2023

City officials help facilitate successful meal handout for asylum seekers in the East Village

Photos and reporting by Stacie Joy
Note: Faces of the asylum seekers have been blurred 

After the difficulties with the planned food and clothing distribution at the former St Brigid School on Friday, NYC Office of Emergency Management Commissioner Zach Iscol and Deputy Commissioner of External Affairs David Schmid (both East Village residents) reached out to help facilitate a planned meal handout yesterday at the asylum-seeker reticketing site on Seventh Street and Avenue B. 

The city offered volunteers with East Village Loves NYC the interior courtyard space, complete with OEM pop-up tents to protect against the rain, to pass out 390-plus hot meals to those in need. (On Friday, after arranging for food distribution, officials at the site wouldn't let volunteers hand out the warm meals to those asylum seekers inside the school.)
Father Seán Connolly from St. Brigid/St. Emeric also helped facilitate the distribution and coordinate a plan between the city-run site and the Archdiocese of New York, which owns the space that the city leases. Plans are currently underway to provide additional supplies through the Church and a faith-based initiative.
Yesterday's distribution, serving asylum seekers from China, Russia, Western and Northern Africa, and Central and South America, included all Halal dishes of beef chili, chicken paprikash, vegan red lentil stew, Danish, fruit, nuts/snack packs, and hot coffee, which was extra welcome in the raw, rainy conditions. 

Community members — along with city officials and the always-popular Google translator app — showed up to help provide communication services.
I spotted several people wearing slippers or chancletas and saw others clearly unprepared for the colder temperatures accompanying NYC this time of year. OEM officials discussed the difficulties in providing shoes, coats, and warm clothing and the logistical challenges in assisting the massive influx of asylum seekers. (Per media accounts, more than 140,000 asylum seekers have arrived here since last spring.) 

The mood was optimistic at the end of yesterday's distribution. 

"[The city] set us up in our own private space and provided tents to keep us dry," said EV Loves NYC co-founder and executive director Mammad Mahmoodi. "This meant we could deliver the offerings with much more dignity and care. We hope that this is the start of a healthy and productive relationship between us all and that they fulfill some promises they made moving forward."

Previously on EV Grieve:

Wednesday, November 29, 2023

More asylum seekers are lining up for help at the former St. Brigid School in the East Village

Photos and reporting by Stacie Joy 
Note: Faces of the asylum seekers have been blurred 

The former St. Brigid School is seeing an overwhelming number of asylum seekers this week here on Seventh Street and Avenue B. 

The site is being used for "reticketing" services ... which help provide transportation to asylum seekers bussed to NYC but whose final destination is elsewhere.

In recent weeks, up to 150 people — all adult males, no children — come through the site on a given day. On Monday, more than 650 were at the former school, which is not offering beds or shelter now. 

On Monday, the volunteer-run East Village Loves NYC handed out 275-plus Halal meals to the men waiting outside. Below are Sasha Allenby and Mammad Mahmoodi from EV Loves NYC...
Most of these asylum seekers reported they were hungry and had no food. They also said they had been removed from other shelters after 30 days and hoped to find another respite center to await a final destination in the States. (Mayor Adams has limited the amount of time adult migrants can stay in city shelters to 30 days.) 

While I was there, some people chose to go to respite centers at the Creedmoor Psychiatric Center in Queens or at JFK, and one person was reticketed to Albany.
Most people waiting in recent days would not be able to be processed. They will most likely return to Bathgate, in the Bronx, where asylum seekers can sleep on the floor indoors before trying their luck again another day. 

On Monday, there was a heavy NYPD presence with barricades erected to help manage the crowd. Staff from the Office of Emergency Management handed out mylar blankets. The site had prepackaged sandwiches and bottles of water inside, plus what looked like cans of tuna and some snacks.
A few local businesses have reached out about doing a distribution. However, working with the city is exceedingly difficult. I can't stress that enough.
Some asylum seekers were spotted sleeping in Tompkins Square Park and nearby curbside dining structures as temps hovered in the high 20s Monday night.

Tuesday, October 24, 2023

City using the former St. Brigid School to help asylum seekers with transportation

Photos and reporting by Stacie Joy 

The city is once again putting the former St. Brigid School to use to aid asylum seekers.

Sources confirmed to us that the city's Office of Emergency Management has repurposed the school, which the Archdiocese of New York closed in the spring of 2019, for "reticketing" services ... which help provide transportation to asylum seekers who are bussed to NYC, but whose final destination is elsewhere. (We're told that other administrative services may also be offered here under the auspices of the Humanitarian Emergency Response and Relief Centers.)

The posted hours of operation here are 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Signs at the site note the following (in five languages), "Attention: this is a reticketing hub! This is not a respite site/shelter. There are no beds at this site. We are here to help you get transportation to any state, or country, of your convenience."
Yesterday, we spotted several asylum seekers at the school. Two people were consulting a computer-printed map to get to Astoria. A city medical staffer told us they could only provide a single emergency meal — today, a tuna fish sandwich was available. Staff members are also not authorized to provide medical aid.  (Updated: The City has more on this story here.)

Before this development, the city was again ready to house arriving asylum seekers — adults only — in the building on Seventh Street and Avenue B. In early October, workers filled the facility with cots — set up in classrooms and other open areas throughout the building — for the arriving asylum seekers...
The facility included showers in the rear parking lot adjacent to the church...

However, according to sources, the school was susceptible to flooding, and with the heavy rains in recent weeks, workers had to make repairs before anyone could stay on-site. The flooding and a sewer issue made the basement and cafeteria unusable here. In the end, there were too many issues to address in order to house people.

As we previously reported, the city used the building for asylum seekers from late May to the end of August. The space was said to accommodate 350 people. The city struggled to meet the basic needs of the new arrivals here. (Our previous post highlighted some of the issues at the school.) 

Locals helped organize several clothing-and-supply distributions, and many East Village residents graciously donated a variety of items as well as their time. 

According to published reports, more than 120,000 asylum seekers have arrived in NYC in the past year, and about 60,000 are currently in shelters run by the city.

Monday, August 28, 2023

Asylum seekers are no longer staying at the former St. Brigid School in the East Village

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 MauritaniaMany 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."

Tuesday, June 27, 2023

Volunteers and donations sought for asylum seekers in the East Village this week

Photos and text by Stacie Joy 

Here is information about the next distribution for asylum seekers temporarily staying at the former St. Brigid School on Avenue B and Seventh Street ... featuring an interfaith coalition with participating religious institutions including: 

• St. Brigid/St. Emeric/Most Holy Redeemer 
• Trinity Lower East Side Lutheran Parish 
• Graffiti Church 
• Middle Middle Collegiate Church 
Residents can drop off clothes and goods starting today ... plus tomorrow and Thursday from 10 a.m. until 1 p.m. at the St Brigid's rectory, 119 Avenue B between Seventh Street and Eighth Street. 

The distribution will be on Thursday, June 29, from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. Volunteers are welcome to attend and help. (A bonus if you speak French or Spanish.)

In-demand donations include adult clothing, blankets and bedding, backpacks, and shoes (especially chancletas). (Please note: no children or infants are at this location.)
Previously on EV Grieve:

Monday, June 12, 2023

How these East Village volunteers finally made Wi-Fi a reality for asylum seekers

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.    
I'm not this tech-savvy, so I zoned out during line-of-sight, nodes and hubs conversation and used the time to check in with a few of the people who are staying at the site. A gay couple from Russia mentioned (via Google Translate) that their "kidneys are freezing" and requested a mattress or pad, or pillow, and blanket. Two men from Mauritania asked for shoes. I assured them we are getting them in as quickly as possible. I wish I spoke French, as so many asylum speakers here do. 

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.
An EVG reader and volunteer named Helen arrived to assist the lone Mandarin speaker. It turned out that Helen's parents are from the same province as the woman, and they talked about basic needs of the asylum seekers and other challenges they are facing. The woman was relieved to have someone to speak with. 

At the end of the night, she showed me a Google-translated note on her phone thanking us.
Hilary, an EVG reader who lives near the site, donated two soccer balls to the Free Store, and they were a big hit, with impromptu matches breaking out. It was Mauritania vs. Colombia up first. 

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!
Paul made a sign with QR codes and a multi-language approach, and we start handing them out and getting them posted within the building. 

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.
There are smiles. People here could use some much-need positive developments.

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.

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