Evicted Migrant Families Were Told They Could Reclaim Their Stuff. Then It Disappeared.

Evicted Migrant Families Were Told They Could Reclaim Their Stuff. Then It Disappeared.

Karolynn Diaz, left, and Alejandro Arango return to the Row Hotel after their 60-day evictions, trying to reclaim items the hotel staff said would be stored, Jan. 31, 2024. Credit: Gwynne Hogan/THE CITY

By Gwynne Hogan | February 2, 2024

After nine days waiting at the Roosevelt Hotel migrant intake center to get placed in a new shelter room, Karolynn Díaz returned to the Row Hotel, where she’d spent her first five months in New York City.

Along with a bag of her children’s toys and clothing, the 27-year-old single mother from Venezuela, unable to carry everything with her, had left behind at the Row a bag full of vital documents: the family’s passports, her recently received work authorization, and paperwork showing she’d applied for temporary protected status and asylum.

Staff at the Row, near Times Square, had assured her and others being evicted that they would have 10 days to come back and collect their belongings.

But when Díaz returned nine days later, after relocating with her two children to another hotel in Midtown Manhattan for a maximum 60-day stay, she was met with blank stares from staff when she inquired about her bag. After waiting for 12 hours, she left without her possessions. She returned the next day, and waited as her children slept on the lobby floor until 1 a.m., before again leaving empty-handed.

“They didn’t tell me anything, just that I had to wait. The guards are laughing, talking to each other in English. They don’t tell you anything,” she said in Spanish. “If I have to dig through the trash I’ll do it. Those papers are important and I don’t know how to get them again.”

Adam Shrier, a spokesperson for the city’s Health and Hospitals system, which oversees the Row — the city’s largest shelter to date for migrant families and the first to be cleared under a new 60-day limit on stays, forcing hundreds of families to leave — described Diaz’s case and other examples provided by THE CITY as outliers.

“Staff at the Row Hotel have securely stored and promptly returned thousands of bags without issue,” he said, adding that the average wait time to reclaim bags was 30 minutes.

‘Just Scare People Away’

Díaz is among the approximately 1,600 migrant families who have been displaced from city shelters since the city’s 60-day eviction policy began taking effect in mid-January, according to city data.

While city staff at the Row gave some evicted migrants vouchers labeled “ROW NYC DISCHARGE” and marked with their room and shelter system intake numbers, saying they could use them to return and pick up their possessions, families with and without the slips are returning to find that the items they left behind are nowhere to be found, further destabilizing people’s lives in an already tumultuous time.

Díaz was able to recover her belongings on Wednesday, several hours after THE CITY reached out to City Hall and Health and Hospitals with details about her case. In an interview after she had recovered her documents, Díaz said she was relieved but exhausted after the ordeal.

“The uncertainty, all the time I spent with my children there waiting for an answer,” she said. “Thank God they appeared.”

Others have not been so lucky.

“It makes me angry. It makes me sad,” Alejandro Arango, a 56-year-old Colombian asylum seeker, said in Spanish about returning to the Row four times in recent days to try and reclaim his possessions.

A supervisor at one point came down, Arango said, to show him a series of photos of open black trash bags.

Staffers finally located a bag full of his vital documents, but another with his work clothing was still missing.

“Nobody takes responsibility and everyone throws the ball at one another,” he said.

Migrants leaving the Row Hotel stored their belongings on the sidewalk before heading to a new shelter.
Migrants leaving the Row Hotel stored their belongings on the sidewalk before heading to a new shelter, Jan. 4, 2024. Credit: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

Others described scenes of desperation: a pregnant woman crying for her lost belongings, staffers doling out vouchers for Salvation Army stores to people whose things had disappeared.

Luisa Golindano, 24, a mother of two, said she’d given up on her belongings after several days of waiting at the Row to try and reclaim them.

“Children’s clothes, shoes, coats, my clothing, telephones, and a tablet,” she said, were among what she had lost. “I don’t have anything for the kids to wear, or layer up in with this cold.”

Maria Quero, the 26-year-old woman who was more than eight months pregnant when she spoke with reporters during her mid-January eviction, also lost several bags of belongings.

She and her husband returned on several occasions to the Row, spending hours each day, before eventually recovering a baby stroller. She lost all her clothing and undergarments, she said.

The Undocumented Womens Fund, a nonprofit that has been accompanying families to the Roosevelt Hotel to seek another 60-day placement after their evictions, has started warning families not to leave anything behind they weren’t comfortable with losing.

“Everyone that we know that decided to leave their things has lost either all or part of them,” said Ximena Bustamente, the group’s founder. “The hotel just told people that they had 10 days to come back. So people just were trusting.”

Bustamente said in her conversations with families, it’s less about the value of what they left behind, and more about general exhaustion.

“It’s this overall sense of abuse, and a whole system that is set up to just scare people away,” Bustamente said. “The purpose is to burn out the families.”

‘Putting People in Anguish’

City officials, who have touted that 80% of evicted single adult migrants did not return to shelters, have not said how many of the 1,600 families evicted in the past two weeks have sought another stay in another shelter.

City Comptroller Brad Lander has promised to investigate the 60-day eviction policy and is collecting first-hand accounts of how the process is going.

Parents who have gone through it described waiting 12 hours, or sometimes multiple days, at the Roosevelt Hotel to receive another 60-day placement, usually at another Midtown hotel. Some said they had to pull kids out of school during the transition.

Arango, who was given a 60-day stay with his grandchildren at another hotel after a 12-hour wait at the Roosevelt Hotel, said the struggle to reclaim the papers he’d left at the Row felt emotionally exhausting and counterproductive to his goal of saving up funds to move out of city shelters as soon as possible.

“You’re putting people on a rotating circle. You are destabilizing people,” he said. “Someone is kicked out of a hotel, and they get two months in another hotel, you’re not saving money. And it’s also not a solution to the problem. On the contrary, you’re putting people in anguish.”

This story was published by THE CITY on February 2, 2024.

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