A chaotic scene was playing out at a Hell’s Kitchen hotel Monday as some asylum seekers who have been living there are refusing to be transferred to Mayor Adams’ new mega migrant shelter in Brooklyn and instead opting to sleep in tents on the hotel’s sidewalk, according to homeless advocates and city officials.
The Adams administration started moving migrants on Saturday from the Watson Hotel on W. 57th St. near Ninth Ave. to its newly-built Humanitarian Emergency Response and Relief Center at the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal on the Red Hook waterfront.
More than 1,000 male, mostly Latin American migrants have been staying at the Watson for weeks, and the administration initially planned to get them all transferred to the Red Hook facility by Tuesday, said Joshua Goldfein, an attorney with the Legal Aid Society’s Homeless Rights Project.
But that timeline now appears to be up in the air as the planned transfers have been met with resistance from the asylum seekers, Goldfein and other advocates who’ve been at the hotel since Sunday told the Daily News.
[ Brooklyn Cruise Terminal will soon house NYC asylum seekers as numbers swell: Mayor Adams ]
Some of the first migrants taken to Red Hook were shocked by the conditions at the site and turned back around, said Ariadna Phillips, founder of the South Bronx Mutual Aid advocacy group.
“They said it was freezing inside, that there were no blankets and they fled. The conditions are inhumane and they don’t comply with right-to-shelter,” Phillips said, referring to the local law that requires the city to provide “decent” shelter for anyone who needs it. “They described it as prison conditions, they said it was like the detention camps on the southern border, and they fled back to the hotel.”
A spokesman for Adams disputed Phillips’ account about conditions inside the Red Hook shelter, which has capacity for 1,000 people and is located in one of the warehouses at the cruise ship terminal.
“Of course the building at Brooklyn Cruise Terminal is heated,” the spokesman said. “It is a temperature-controlled structure like any other indoor facility.”
Videos posted on social media from inside the Red Hook facility shows hundreds of beds lined up in tight rows, without any privacy partitions.
Phillips said her group has been told by migrants at the site that shower facilities are in a separate building. “So residents have to exit into the cold to shower, return wet in [the] cold to [the] facility,” she said.
[ Migrants turned away from NYC’s overcrowded ‘relief centers’ after arriving from Colorado, sent to homeless shelters: sources ]
The migrants who returned to the Watson after being admitted at the Red Hook site were told they could not get their hotel rooms back, Goldfein said.
That created a tense situation, as those migrants stuck around anyway demanding to get their rooms back, according to advocates. Goldfein and Phillips said they had both spoken to migrants who were shut out of their hotel rooms before being able to retrieve their belongings.
Some of the migrants removed from the hotel proceeded to set up tents on the sidewalk, where they spent the night Sunday, according to advocates. The tents were still there Monday morning, and some migrants were seen sleeping directly on the sidewalk despite the January weather.
Amid the commotion, NYPD officers were called to the hotel late Sunday, an Adams spokesman confirmed.
“The NYPD only responded yesterday after individuals who are not asylum seekers assigned to the Watson Hotel began rushing the hotel and trying to enter spaces that they were not authorized to enter,” the spokesman said.
The NYPD said no arrests were made.
According to Goldfein, hundreds of migrants still resided in hotel rooms at the Watson as of Monday morning, and it was not immediately clear what will happen to them. Advocates were expected to hold a rally outside the hotel on Monday afternoon.
[ Mayor Adams claims right-to-shelter law does not apply to NYC asylum seekers; critics pounce ]
The Adams spokesman accused advocacy groups of instigating the Watson chaos.
“It looks like the disruption outside the Watson Hotel yesterday was organized by local organizations and individuals who have repeatedly sought to stop our efforts to support the 42,000+ asylum seekers here in New York City,” the spokesman said.
Murad Awawdeh, the executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition, said the administration should not be surprised it’s facing pushback over the Red Hook site.
“[The site] is in a transit desert, much like the Orchard Beach and Randalls Island locations were, and doesn’t meet the health and safety needs of residents,” Awawdeh said, referencing the administration’s two other mega migrant shelters that have since been shuttered. “Rather than creating more unsuitable, temporary shelters, the city must support residents by moving them into permanent housing, especially those that have been stuck in our shelter system for years.”
The Watson dilemma comes as Adams continues to plead with the federal government for more financial and logistical aid to shelter and provide services for the more than 42,000 migrants who have arrived in the city since last spring.
Most of the migrants are fleeing poverty and violence in their home countries and ended up in New York after crossing the U.S. southern border in hopes of obtaining asylum.
Prior to this weekend’s Watson incident, Adams has touted the fact that his administration has sheltered all migrants in New York despite what he views as a lack of assistance from the federal and state governments.
“Keep in mind, everyone that has arrived here received the same level of fairness and treatment. We don’t have people sleeping on the streets,” Adams said in an appearance on NY1 Friday. “We have addressed the needs of everyone that came here … We’re doing our share. It’s time for the national government to step up.”