Migrants Search for Beds as New York Quietly Stops Offering Them to All

On Thursday, Vinicius Funes, a 26-year-old migrant from Honduras, went in search of a bed.

He had spent two nights waiting in a chair at New York City’s official arrival center for migrants at the Roosevelt Hotel in Midtown Manhattan.

He was then given a handout directing him to what he thought was a homeless shelter.

But it turned out to be a “reticketing” office, where the city buys migrants a one-way passage out of town.

With nowhere to go, Mr. Funes returned to the Roosevelt, where he got a text from a friend about a space at a Bronx shelter.

There were no beds there either, though, just a big waiting room.

Mr. Funes spent the night on the floor.

He had plenty of company: At least 50 men had done the same, with only blue city-issued blankets to rest on, said Mr. Funes and another migrant who gave his name only as Daniel A. and who provided a video of the conditions there.

Vinicius Funes, 26, from Honduras, said he has moved from shelter to shelter looking for a bed. Out of luck, he has instead slept on a waiting room floor.Credit…Andres Kudacki for The New York Times

New York City is legally obligated to provide a bed for every homeless person who asks for one, under a decades-old court settlement. But 18 months into a migrant crisis that shows no signs of abating, it has walked away from its obligation, at least for some people.

The city, which is currently providing emergency shelter to more than 65,000 migrants, is no longer guaranteeing beds for single adults who have hit the city’s 30-day or 60-day limit on stays at any one migrant shelter.

“We have established waiting areas for those who have left our shelter system and are now asking to return,” Kayla Mamelak, a spokeswoman for Mayor Eric Adams, said on Friday.

In the case of Mr. Funes and Daniel A., that space was a former health clinicon Third Avenue in the Bronx.

Dozen of migrants have also been sleeping on the floor, for up to five days, at another city-designated waiting area, in a church in Astoria, Queens, said Kathryn Kliff, a staff attorney for the Legal Aid Society, which is fighting an attempt by the city to suspend the so-called right to shelter.

In the case of Mr. Funes, who has never been in a city shelter, New York also appears to be failing first-time seekers like him.

“They want you to get tired so you give up, and they are achieving it,” he said.

Mr. Adams was unapologetic about the housing situation for migrants at a news conference on Tuesday.

“I don’t know how to get this any clearer,” he said. “When you are out of room, that means you’re out of room.”

He added that it was inevitable that some migrants would end up outdoors.

“It’s not ‘if’ people will be sleeping on the streets, it’s ‘when,’” the mayor said.

The space crunch has been worsened by the Fire Department’s recent closing of five shelters, housing hundreds of migrants, because of fire-code violations.

The city said its push to get migrants to move out of shelters, using a combination of placement assistance and pressure tactics, is working: Of about 5,000 migrants who have run out their shelter time limits, fewer than 1,000 reapplied to stay in shelters. The rest have left.

Thousands of migrants have been moving out of the city’s shelter system in recent weeks, at the urging of city workers. Credit…Andres Kudacki for The New York Times

The surge of new arrivals that had been accelerating in recent weeks is also easing. About 2,500 migrants were processed at the arrival center last week, down from more than 3,500 per week over the past month.

But the number of migrants in shelters has continued to climb each month since the crisis began. Housing them is costing the city more than $10 million a day.

Recently, Mr. Adams’s administration has discussed issuing sleeping bags and tents to migrants and letting them camp in designated areas, according to a person familiar with the city’s deliberations.

Mr. Adams seemed to allude to that on Tuesday, saying that the city was looking for “outdoor spaces” where it could “try to create a controlled environment to the best of our ability.” He added that the city would make sure there were restrooms and showers.

The goal, Mr. Adams said, was to “localize” settlements as much as possible, to avoid “what’s happening in other cities, where you’re seeing tent cities pop up all over the place.”

The opening of the reticketing center and waiting areas was reported by the news site The City. The discussions about issuing tents were reported by The Wall Street Journal.

Ms. Kliff said that putting people in tents, especially with winter coming, “is very much a violation of anything we would possibly accept” and would cause “physical harm and trauma for people who have already undergone immense amounts of trauma” trekking to the United States on the punishing migration route through Latin America.

The city and Legal Aid, along with New York State, are now in mediation in the right-to-shelter case. Across the city, Ms. Kliff said, migrants are being given contradictory instructions as they are shifted from place to place.

“There’s just mass confusion right now,” she said.

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