NYC Public Advocate Highlights Need For Housing, Educational Resources For Asylum Seekers

September 30th, 2022

Press Release

As asylum seekers continue to arrive in New York City at a rapid rate, Public Advocate Jumaane D. Williams is elevating the experiences and urgent needs of newly arriving New Yorkers, and the responsibilities of city, state, and federal government to meet those needs. In a statement prepared for a Friday City Council hearing of the Committee on Immigration, he stressed the importance of protecting the right to shelter in an overburdened and underresourced system.

"Recently, I made a visit to a shelter in Hollis, Queens, where regrettably an asylum seeker took her own life. We found out that the shelter was not meant nor prepared to house asylum seekers and was severely understaffed, with 1 worker per 100 residents, with a maximum capacity of 500 residents..." reported Public Advocate Williams. He later argued that "Shelters would not be so under strain if the backlog and wait times for housing vouchers were expedited. Some individuals that currently reside in shelters have been living there for years. Affordable and supportive housing is one pathway to simultaneously transition them from homelessness to a permanent housing situation and open capacity at shelters."

He pointed to his recent report with the Committee to End Homelessness, which recommends expanding CityFHEPS eligibility to allow people who work and earn up to 50 percent of the city’s Area Median Income to qualify and waiving the work requirement for those not employed but on public assistance to qualify. He further pushed for passage of his Homeless Bill of Rights as a means of defining and protecting key standards for asylum seekers.

He also emphasized the importance of providing families with quality educational services, saying "According to recent Department of Homeless Services figures, of the 11,800 asylum seekers in the DHS system, approximately 8,000 are families with children. Enrolling these children in school is imperative in facilitating the transition post-migration as well as providing a safer space and environment where the children have access to hot meals...The Department of Education must ensure that their processes for placing asylum seeker children is as transparent as possible and takes into consideration the transient status of the children and their families in regards to housing and the immigration system."

Read the Public Advocate's full statement below.

STATEMENT BY PUBLIC ADVOCATE JUMAANE D. WILLIAMS

TO THE NEW YORK CITY COUNCIL COMMITTEE ON IMMIGRATION

SEPTEMBER 30, 2022

My name is Jumaane D. Williams and I am the Public Advocate for the City of New York. I would like to thank Chair Hanif and members of the Committee on Immigration for holding this hearing. 

As the child of Grenadian immigrants, the impacts of immigration have affected not only my life but the millions of immigrant families that call New York City home. Many families are here today because immigration policies enabled them to seek new opportunities for themselves and their loved ones. That being said, it is deeply disturbing to see what has been happening nationally, with anti-immigrant governors using asylum seekers as political pawns. These elected officials have bussed asylum seekers to locations they had no intention of ending up in, such as New York City, just to make a statement.

Regardless, New York City will always welcome asylum seekers and all immigrants with open arms. The City has welcomed over 10,000 asylum seekers in the past few months, but the reality for our city is that it is struggling to keep up with the growing number of asylum seekers that arrive almost every day. Our city is a right-to-shelter jurisdiction as mandated by the Callahan ruling. As a result, our city is uniquely positioned to be a welcoming beacon to everyone. For many of these asylum seekers, landing in this country was an act of necessity; no one travels through thousands of miles of dangerous terrain—and with children in hand in some cases—unless the circumstances at home were dire. Their journeys often last over a month; many had to go through jungles such as the dangerous Darien Gap and sleep on the ground. Ultimately, they all ended up in New York City. Our city must make changes in order to mitigate the struggles it is currently facing to properly meet the needs of these asylum seekers.

I acknowledge and commend all the hard work the administration is doing to support asylum seekers. That being said, there are still questions to be asked and clarification needed from various city agencies on how they are coordinating efforts. I wanted a better sense of what was happening on the ground, so I visited three different sites that asylum seekers would encounter upon their arrival: Port Authority Bus Terminal, Prevention Assistance and Temporary Housing (PATH) Intake Center, and a shelter. 

At Port Authority, I spoke with some families, including those with infants, to hear more about their experiences up until this point, and my team helped to provide and distribute backpacks to families with children. At PATH Intake Center, I was provided a walkthrough of the center and the process, from initial processing to shelter placement. I also spoke with two families who had different arrival journeys, but both went through weeks of travel across numerous countries. Recently, I made a visit to a shelter in Hollis, Queens, where regrettably an asylum seeker took her own life. We found out that the shelter was not meant nor prepared to house asylum seekers and was severely understaffed, with 1 worker per 100 residents, with a maximum capacity of 500 residents. I am deeply concerned that we may see similar stories in the weeks to come if greater transparency, accountability, and culturally responsive resources (especially linguistic and mental health resources) are not provided throughout our shelter system.

Furthermore, this additional strain on the shelter system has put an even brighter spotlight on the need to codify the rights of unhoused individuals, both in and out of shelters. Int. 0190-2022, which was heard by the City Council earlier this September, would further codify and publicize the rights of unhoused individuals to access legal, language, education, and shelter services. New York City is already a right-to-shelter city, and it only makes sense to pass Int. 0190 into law to accompany our city’s status as a right-to-shelter jurisdiction.

Shelters would not be so under strain if the backlog and wait times for housing vouchers were expedited. Some individuals that currently reside in shelters have been living there for years. Affordable and supportive housing is one pathway to simultaneously transition them from homelessness to a permanent housing situation and open capacity at shelters. My office recently released a report, the Committee to End Homelessness by the Year 2026. It goes into detail about the goals and strategies to end the homelessness crisis. One of the report’s recommendations is to expand CityFHEPS eligibility to allow people who work and earn up to 50 percent of the city’s Area Median Income to qualify and to waive the work requirement for those not employed but on public assistance to qualify. 

Additionally, one of my greatest concerns lies with asylum seekers who are children. According to recent Department of Homeless Services figures, of the 11,800 asylum seekers in the DHS system, approximately 8,000 are families with children. Enrolling these children in school is imperative in facilitating the transition post-migration as well as providing a safer space and environment where the children have access to hot meals. My main concerns have to do with bilingual education programs, overall language accessibility, and access for the parents who themselves have to navigate the educational system on behalf of their children. The Department of Education must ensure that their processes for placing asylum seeker children is as transparent as possible and takes into consideration the transient status of the children and their families in regards to housing and the immigration system.

Lastly, in order for the City to continue to improve upon itself to meet the needs of our growing asylum seeker population, we need financial support from the federal government. Many of these programs that are arising to meet this heightened need cannot be executed nor succeed if there is not enough funding. Furthermore, we must direct funding straight to mutual aid groups, community-based/faith-based organizations, and clergy who have been working on the ground and directly with asylum seekers. Many of these groups and volunteers are doing this work without any compensation and deserve to be acknowledged and compensated for their efforts. At the end of the day, advocates, the administration, and everyday New Yorkers are all working to the same goal, and that is welcoming our newest New Yorkers regardless of where they come from. We must collectively work together to coordinate a sustainable, culturally and linguistically sensitive, and compassionate response to treat all asylum seekers with dignity and respect, and I believe this can be done.

Thank you.

Our Office

David N. Dinkins Municipal Building
1 Centre Street 15th Floor North
New York, NY 10007

Email: gethelp@advocate.nyc.gov

Hotline: (212) 669-7250

Fax: (888) 409-0287*

Text: (833) 933-1692

*Our fax number has changed temporarily while we upgrade our infrastructure
© 2024 Copyright: Office of the New York City Public Advocate
Privacy Policy