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NYC Public Advocate Highlights the Issues Facing Black Migrants

April 16th, 2024Press Release

NEW YORK: As New York continues to see a large number of migrants arriving in the city, Public Advocate Jumaane D. Williams today highlighted the unique challenges faced by Black migrants. At a City Council joint hearing of the Committees on Immigration and Hospitals, he emphasized that the stories of Black immigrants from Africa and the Caribbean often fall on deaf ears, and that this lack of prioritization leads to disparate harm.  “Black migrants have shared their experiences facing racism and anti-Blackness within a system that historically deports, detains, and confines Black migrants at a higher rate than any other racial or ethnic group,” said Public Advocate Jumaane Williams. “These are realities the city has to grapple with, and in order to make any progress, we must hear directly from those living these realities. From the local to the federal level, my office and I have been calling for greater resource allocation for Black migrants, and this hearing is a great starting point.” Public Advocate Williams, who is the son of Grenadian immigrants, pointed to language barriers as a key component of undeserving Black immigrant communities, and urged equity in housing and other city services, saying “Language accessibility is a lifeline for immigrants and opens doors to legal services, housing, economic empowerment, and other opportunities…Many of these migrants are navigating an entirely new city, culture, language, and systems after what may have been a long and harrowing journey just to get here. On top of all that, they may face increased scrutiny, xenophobia, and racism just by nature of being a Black immigrant. The city, among the existing and future resources it provides and distributes, must ensure that at minimum, there is equity of resources above all else.” At a press conference prior to the hearing, over 1,000 people were estimated to be outside City Hall, an unprecedented turnout for a hearing. There, the Public Advocate called the sight “one of the most beautiful things” he had seen in his time in elected office, declared it a “proud moment” and pledged that “today, they will hear you.”

Read the Public Advocate’s statement as delivered below.  

STATEMENT OF PUBLIC ADVOCATE JUMAANE D. WILLIAMS TO THE NEW YORK CITY COUNCIL COMMITTEES ON IMMIGRATION AND HOSPITALS APRIL 16, 2024

Good morning,

My name is Jumaane D. Williams and I am the Public Advocate for the City of New York. Thank you to Chair Avilés, Chair Narcisse, and members of the Committees on Immigration and Hospitals for holding this important hearing and for allowing me to share my statement. Speaking as the son of Black immigrants in particular, Chair Avilés, thank you for seeing the importance and prioritizing Black immigrants in this community - you really have, and thank you so much for that. And I just wanted to shout out - you spoke a lot about the advocates, so shout out to all of them, but I just wanted to shout out someone who for decades has been doing this work and has been a godmother to many of us on Black issues, and that’s Bertha Lewis of the Black Institute, thank you for all the work you do. 

New York City has been responding to an influx of migrants to the city since 2022. Migrants are arriving from all over the world; they come from different cultures, practice various traditions, and speak a multitude of languages. This is nothing new for a city like New York. The city has done a great deal in responding to this influx, yet resource allocation could be more equitable than it is now, particularly for Black migrants coming from Caribbean and African countries, I want to make sure we lift up Sudan, Congo, and Haiti in particular, who are often left out of the news, as well as some of the other nations in Africa and the Caribbean. Black migrants have shared their experiences facing racism and anti-Blackness within a system that historically deports, detains, and confines Black migrants at a higher rate than any other racial or ethnic group. These are realities the city has to grapple with, and in order to make any progress, we must hear directly from those living these realities. From the local to the federal level, my office and I have been calling for greater resource allocation for Black migrants, and this hearing is a great starting point.

At this juncture, the city should be well aware that with migrants coming from all over the world, they also speak a wide variety of languages – as was mentioned, this is not a monolith. As a result, city resources should also be in-language as much as possible. Black migrants particularly feel the impacts of language barriers, especially if they do not speak English or Spanish. They are more likely to speak languages like Arabic, French, Haitian Creole, Wolof, Mandinka, or Fula, and city resources and information in these languages are more difficult to come by.  Just now at the press conference, myself and Council Member Hudson were telling folks they could get medical assistance in emergency rooms, particularly in city hospitals – something that they did not know, mostly likely because of language access.  Language accessibility is a lifeline for immigrants and opens doors to legal services, housing, economic empowerment, and other opportunities. With a preliminary survey of languages that Black migrants speak–which many CBOs already have data on–the city should increase its language capacity accordingly.

Another crucial point of discussion I wish to uplift is the impact of housing and shelter on Black migrants. With the city’s ongoing 30- and 60-day notices to evict migrant shelter residents–which disproportionately affects African migrants–we may see and hear of more instances of migrants sheltering in storefronts and in extreme congregate settings because they have nowhere else to go. We are also witnessing unaccompanied youth at the whims of the shelter system, some of whom are categorized as adults if they are over the age of 18, despite attending NYCDOE high schools. With these shelter notices, some have to decide between attending school or reapplying for a shelter placement, which is not a same-day guarantee. These experiences reflect a number of oversights in the city’s response, and my hope is that the administration is made aware of the situation and commits to ramping up case management for these unaccompanied migrant youths.

Many of these migrants are navigating an entirely new city, culture, language, and systems after what may have been a long and harrowing journey just to get here. On top of all that, they may face increased scrutiny, xenophobia, and racism just by nature of being a Black immigrant. The city, among the existing and future resources it provides and distributes, must ensure that at minimum, there is equity of resources above all else.

I want to remind folks that applying for asylum is a legal way to be in this city — and also push the White House to do more, and Governor Hochul to do more, they are not. New York City cannot do this by itself, I do know there is a gargantuan effort, and with some of those efforts I just want to thank the city for trying, but we do know that even has we await more resources, we have to make sure those resources are applied equitably and humanely and we have some work to do in those two categories.

Thank you.


NYC Public Advocate Responds To The City Denying Justice For Kawaski Trawick

April 12th, 2024Press Release

"Kawaski Trawick's family has waited five years and two administrations, only to be denied any semblance of justice. This is a shameful decision stemming from a cynical system and strategy across multiple mayors and commissioners to shield law enforcement from accountability. Delaying this case for years and blaming that delay on ultimate inaction has been an attempt to deliberately sabotage the process and call it unfortunate. It’s a Trumpian tactic of delaying justice in order to deny it, and it’s a sign of the city's unwillingness to allow for basic accountability. "Kawaski Trawick was killed by police while in his home and experiencing a mental health crisis. Armed police should never have been the city’s response, but on arrival, they escalated the incident, with tragic results. Five years later, the city continues to try to answer our mental health crisis with a law enforcement-led response. Win Rozario’s death last month after calling for help amid his own mental health crisis shows that the city has learned nothing from this tragedy, and with the mayor refusing to even say his name, and any attempts to now express sympathy or solidarity would be just another instance of being far too late."


NYC Public Advocate Opposes City Hall Effort To Bottleneck Government Services

April 12th, 2024Press Release

Following the Adams administration’s implementation of a new policy to require elected officials in city, state, and federal office to seek approval from City Hall for certain engagement with city agency leadership, New York City Public Advocate Jumaane D. Williams urged the administration to reconsider the action. This measure reduces access, communication, and effectiveness of government services, in direct contradiction to the Public Advocate’s dual roles of connecting New Yorkers to city agencies and providing oversight of administration operations.

In a letter to the mayor, the Public Advocate makes clear that “Contrary to the reductive comparisons some have made, this is not about a form. This is about City Hall creating a bottleneck in government services and giving the mayor’s office the potential to throttle certain requests essential to serving constituents as the office ‘reserves the right to decline requests,’” and later notes that “This policy as designed will stymie vital interaction between government partners – preventing public service on behalf of New Yorkers in order to service a seeming need of this administration to exert further control over all government operations.” 

The Public Advocate also raises concerns about the ways in which this effort to put all government actions through the mayors’ office could hurt transparency, arguing that “By putting all serious concerns through the City Hall screener, it is possible that serious issues in need of investigation, correction, and certainly public spotlighting may never see the light of day, denied by the mayor’s office for any number of reasons. This is not a way to make government work for New Yorkers, as my office is directly responsible for ensuring and as all responsible elected leaders strive to do.”

Public Advocate Williams closes his letter urging the kind of communication this policy could prohibit, and conceding that “In case this letter does not suffice, just this once, I’ll also submit the form.”

Read the Public Advocate’s full letter below.

Greetings Mayor Adams,

I write today to urge you to reconsider and rescind the new procedure your administration is imposing on city agencies, which requires elected officials to seek permission to work with our partners in government at city agencies about critical issues.

Contrary to the reductive comparisons some have made, this is not about a form. This is about City Hall creating a bottleneck in government services and giving the mayor’s office the potential to throttle certain requests essential to serving constituents as the office “reserves the right to decline requests.”

The Public Advocate’s office - charged with both connecting New Yorkers to city agencies and serving as an oversight body over those same agencies does not intend to limit our ability to perform these roles by getting permission from City Hall first. On the contrary, we call on you to rescind this inefficient, ineffective policy and enable not only our office, but elected officials at all levels, to do their duty.

Once an agency under the purview of the mayor’s office has received a contact from an elected official, they are free to make City Hall aware of that interaction – indeed, we would expect it – but not for City Hall to serve as a filter for those requests. This policy as designed will stymie vital interaction between government partners – preventing public service on behalf of New Yorkers in order to service a seeming need of this administration to exert further control over all government operations.

Furthermore, by putting all serious concerns through the City Hall screener, it is possible that serious issues in need of investigation, correction, and certainly public spotlighting may never see the light of day, denied by the mayor’s office for any number of reasons. This is not a way to make government work for New Yorkers, as my office is directly responsible for ensuring and as all responsible elected leaders strive to do.

I request to speak further with you to discuss the need to keep channels of communication open in government, and to allow for any clarifications. In case this letter does not suffice, just this once, I’ll also submit the form.

Sincerely, 

Jumaane D. Williams

Public Advocate for the City of New York  


NYC Public Advocate and Tenants Arrested While Protesting Outside Big Real Estate Lobby

April 4th, 2024Press Release

NEW YORK: New York City Public Advocate Jumaane D. Williams was arrested by the NYPD today alongside over a dozen tenants and advocates engaging in civil disobedience outside the midtown offices of the Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY). The activists from Housing Justice for All were speaking out against REBNY’s campaign to protect bad landlords and prevent tenant protections from being enacted statewide when NYPD officers took them into custody for obstructing the building’s entrance.

The Public Advocate made the following statement on the act of civil disobedience:

“Today I and others face arrest on behalf of tenants across New York facing eviction as rents rise and landlords continue to put profit over people. We are blocking the entrance to REBNY just as they have blocked real tenant protections from being enacted in Albany through their disingenuous lobbying and spending.

“At this crucial moment of the housing and homelessness crisis in New York, we need to not only protect the progress we have fought for over years, but march forward, enshrining Good Cause eviction protections into state law and expanding access to deeply affordable, income-targeted housing. Stable housing is essential to public safety — yet when New Yorkers ask for this kind of support, those pleas are rarely heard by those in power.

"Last month, the city’s worst landlord was arrested for his negligence in harming his tenants. Today, we were arrested to protest REBNY’s active campaign to harm tenants statewide, to urge state lawmakers to reject big real estate’s influence, and to finally pass the protections New Yorkers desperately need.”

With housing costs soaring and many New Yorkers being forced from their homes, REBNY has continued to lobby against the passing of Good Cause eviction protections and other efforts to expand access to affordable housing. Donations and lobbying efforts from the real estate industry have exacerbated the housing and homelessness crisis in New York City and statewide.

Following the arrest, Public Advocate Williams has been taken to the 7th police precinct.


NYC Public Advocate’s Statement On The Death Of NYPD Officer Jonathan Diller

March 25th, 2024Press Release

"Officer Diller came to work today as he did every day, prepared to risk his safety to protect the city, and lost his life in service to our community. I join all New Yorkers to honor his sacrifice, and uplift his life and memory. I offer prayers of peace and comfort to his family, to his colleagues with the Queens South CRT, and to the entire NYPD. The city mourns with you tonight. New Yorkers know that even in the face of danger, even in a moment of mourning, NYPD officers will always bravely answer the 911 call of a New Yorker in need, and we are grateful for your courage and grieving in your loss.

"The plague of gun violence continues to devastate our city, to rob our neighbors of their family and friends, to inflict unimaginable pain. Officer Diller was a partner in public safety and service, and in his memory, we should embody that spirit."


Public Advocate Calls For Mental Health Investments In City Budget

March 21st, 2024Press Release

As part of a comprehensive approach to public health and safety in New York City, Public Advocate Jumaane D. Williams called for targeted investments in key initiatives. At a joint hearing of the City Council Committees on Health and on Mental Health, Disabilities, and Addiction, he emphasized the cascading consequences of a lack of resources for mental health care.

“Barriers to effective care include a host of issues related to lack of adequate insurance, stigma and discrimination, lack of access to stable housing, etc,” said Public Advocate Williams before the committees. “The increased visibility and vulnerability of these individuals, compounded with a decrease in resources as cities around the country struggle to meet demand, have devastating consequences.”

The Public Advocate pointed to his office's 2019 report and 2022 supplement, Improving New York City’s Responses To Individuals In Mental Health Crisis, and particularly highlighted two areas of potential investment:

Respite Centers - Respite Care Centers are an alternative to hospitalization for those in crisis and serve as temporary stays in supportive settings that allow individuals to maintain their regular schedules and have guests visit. Currently, there are 4 Health Department Community Partners operating respite centers serving adult New Yorkers, a drop from the 8 centers in 2019. The Administration for Children’s Services also operates a respite program for youth.

Increasing Supportive Housing - Supportive housing is affordable housing with supportive social services in place. Currently, the city is lagging behind in providing supportive housing, with a long and often-delayed application process. This should include supportive housing for incarcerated individuals and individuals re-entering communities post-release. 

In addition, Public Advocate Williams called for the preservation and expansion of lifesaving Overdose Prevention Centers, "which opened in 2021 and in their first six months of operation helped prevent over 300 overdoses". He also uplifted the Progressive Caucus' request from last year for "$20 million to shift the city’s two existing OPCs in Manhattan to 24/7 operations and open four additional centers, one in each borough that does not have an OPC.”

Read the Public Advocate’s full comments as prepared below. 

TESTIMONY OF PUBLIC ADVOCATE JUMAANE D. WILLIAMS TO THE NEW YORK CITY COUNCIL COMMITTEES ON HEALTH & MENTAL HEALTH, DISABILITIES AND ADDICTION

Good morning, 

My name is Jumaane D. Williams, and I am the Public Advocate for the City of New York. I thank Chairs Schulman and Lee and the members of the Committees on Health and Mental Health, Disabilities and Addiction for holding this hearing today and allowing me the opportunity to testify. 

In any given year, more than one in five New Yorkers experience psychiatric illness, with low-income people of more color often unable to access any treatment or support. Barriers to effective care include a host of issues related to lack of adequate insurance, stigma and discrimination, and lack of access to stable housing. The increased visibility and vulnerability of these individuals, compounded with a decrease in resources as cities around the country struggle to meet demand, have devastating consequences. The death of Jordan Neely last year, an unhoused person experiencing a mental health crisis on the subway, is just one example. 

Programs like B-HEARD, launched in 2021 to address mental health crisis calls with non-police response cover only a quarter of mental health calls made in the city. B-HEARD teams are established in only 31 of the city’s 77 police precincts. One of the primary challenges has been hiring enough social workers and EMS staff for B-HEARD teams, at a time when EMS staff are already overstretched. The lack of adequately trained staff has led to continuous cuts to the program’s budget. Peer support specialists and other embedded mental health infrastructure could help fill these gaps. The city’s Overdose Prevention Centers (OPCs), which opened in 2021 and in their first six months of operation helped prevent over 300 overdoses, is another  program that could address serious healthcare gaps in NYC. I want to echo the Progressive Caucus’s request last year for $20 million to shift the city’s two existing OPCs in Manhattan to 24/7 operations and open four additional centers, one in each borough that does not have an OPC. 

In addition to this request, I want to highlight and reiterate my support for a few recommendations from my office’s  report “Improving New York City’s Responses to Individuals in Mental Health Crisis” released in October of 2019.  This report, updated and reissued in November 2022, was informed by conversations with and the work of mental health and justice advocates. I want to uplift the need for:

Respite Centers. Respite Care Centers are an alternative to hospitalization for those in crisis and serve as temporary stays in supportive settings that allow individuals to maintain their regular schedules and have guests visit. Currently, there are 4 Health Department Community Partners operating respite centers serving adult New Yorkers, a drop from the 8 centers in 2019. The Administration for Children’s Services also operates a respite program for youth. 

Increasing supportive housing. Supportive housing is affordable housing with supportive social services in place. Currently, the city is lagging behind in providing supportive housing, with a long and often-delayed application process. This should include supportive housing for incarcerated individuals and individuals re-entering communities post-release. 

Furthermore, I want to highlight the need for expanded STI testing and sexual health care centers as recent data from DOHMH shows that the number of sexually transmitted diseases has spiked across the city with rates of chlamydia, syphilis and gonorrhea skyrocketing across demographic groups.

Finally, I want to highlight all the recent and planned hospital closures. Over the past 25 years, we’ve had a total of 20 hospital closures. These closures have disproportionately impacted communities of color, who often bear the burden of adverse health effects. By closing hospitals, we are losing access to beds and precious resources and we cannot afford to go backwards. The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated health outcomes and further contributed to staff shortages and high rates of turnover. It is our responsibility now to realize the reforms needed and act swiftly to prevent more suffering and loss. I look forward to engaging with this Council, the Adams administration, and communities across the city to address these issues.

Thank you. 


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