A Thousand Migrants Slept Outside or in Subways, NYC Official Survey Says

A Thousand Migrants Slept Outside or in Subways, NYC Official Survey Says

Migrants sleep in makeshift shelters overnight outside the St. Brigid reticketing site in the East Village, Dec. 11, 2023. Credit: Gwynne Hogan/THE CITY

By Gwynne Hogan | February 16, 2024

Nearly a thousand migrants waiting for a new shelter cot spent a recent night on the streets or in trains, according to an internal poll conducted by city officials and obtained by THE CITY.

The “St. Brigid Guest Overnight Stay” survey asked a group of migrants in mid-January where they’d spent the night. The results, according to materials reviewed by THE CITY, extrapolated that 968 spent the night outside or on the train.

St. Brigid is the East Village site where migrant adults without children must report to get a ticket elsewhere, before applying for a new shelter stay. The survey polled 377 of those adults, a group the city deemed to be “representative of the entire guest waitlist,” which at the time was 3,874 people who had been evicted from city shelters and were seeking a new placement.

City Hall this week credited a recent drop in the number of migrants in city shelters, from 69,000 in early January to 65,600 in mid-February, to the shelter eviction policies that were introduced beginning in October.

But that drop does not appear to account for the nearly four thousand people who were waiting for a shelter placement.

Last fall the city began limiting adult shelter stays to 30 days, while beginning to dole out 60-day eviction notices to some migrant families with children. Families with children are now sent back to the Roosevelt Hotel for another shelter placement when their time runs out.

For adults whose 30 days in shelter has run out, the wait for a new shelter placement can last more than a week, during which time people lining up outside the East Village site have limited access to showers, food, and even bathrooms. Once the site closes in the evening, 25% of respondents reported that they’d slept outside or on the trains, while 4% said a family member or friend took them in.

About 67% of those surveyed said they had spent the night in a “shelter,” with many ending up at the city’s five overnight waiting rooms where people can rest on the ground or in chairs without cots.

A census of New York City’s unsheltered population, conducted in January of 2023, counted 4,042 people living on city streets and subways. While the results of this year’s count have yet to be released, the 968 migrants the city estimates slept outside would represent nearly a 25% increase in that population.

Amaris Cockfield, a spokesperson for Mayor Adams, declined to comment on the specifics of the survey.

“First and foremost, all guests at St. Brigid are offered the option to be reticketed to the destination of their choice. Those that want to wait for placement here in New York City are referred to a location where they can wait indoors and are not forced to wait outside,” she said. “Our agency partners continue to work to assess and gain a deeper understanding of migrants’ needs.”

As THE CITY reported earlier this week, the Adams administration is working to shut down the overnight sites where people can wait inside by the end of February.

‘It’s Exhausting’

Amadou Dia, 36 from Mauritania, who spoke to THE CITY in mid-January while he was waiting for a bed, said he was among those who’d turned to the city’s subways after getting turned away from an overnight waiting room.

“They told me to go to the Bronx, but there they told me it was full, so I had nowhere to go. I didn’t have a choice, I had to go to the subway,” he said in French. “It’s exhausting.”

THE CITY has previously reported that more migrants have been sleeping on the streets, in subways and in shelters set up by outside groups, despite the winter weather, as it’s become more and more difficult to secure a city shelter bed.

The backlog of people waiting for shelter started ballooning in late December, rendering the city’s long standing “right to shelter” protections enshrined in a 1981 consent decree, virtually meaningless for thousands of adult migrants.

Since then, more than 20,000 adults have gotten in line at St. Brigid’s, according to signs posted at the site, to wait for another 30-day stint in a migrant shelter.

Homeless rights advocates have warned restricting access to city shelters would lead to a surge in street homelessness. That can be costly for the city in other ways, like the cost of emergency room visits, which occur when people are exposed to the elements or other unsafe situations outdoors.

Asked about a potential surge in street homelessness in mid-January, around when the survey was conducted, Mayor Eric Adams said that New York City has done more than its fair share to support migrants arriving from the southern border.

“I’ve said this a couple of months ago, the visualization of this crisis is going to become aware for New Yorkers. We stated we were out of room,” he said. “And the cost of doing this…it was a weight we could not continue to carry.”

This story was published by THE CITY on February 16, 2024.

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