Migrant Parents Work, Save and Worry as Shelter Eviction Looms

Migrant Parents Work, Save and Worry as Shelter Eviction Looms
A family leaves the Row NYC migrant shelter in Times Square, Oct. 18, 2023. Credit: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

By Gwynne Hogan | October 23, 2023

Families had already been desperately searching for apartments — and moms are worried about how any move in the middle of the school year will impact their children’s education.

For weeks, rumors spread among residents of the Row, a Midtown hotel turned migrant shelter, about how families would soon have as long as a year or as little as 30 days before they’d have to move out.

In the absence of direct communication from hotel staff or the city, people talked. Those rumors were replaced by much more immediate concerns as word spread of Mayor Eric Adams’ announcement last Monday that the city would begin distributing 60-day warnings for families with children that they must leave their rooms and re-apply for city shelter.

“There are a lot of people who only want to live off the government. But not us, we want to find our own rental apartment,” said Elismer Adan, 23, in Spanish, while bouncing a kinetic toddler on her hip outside the hotel Tuesday evening.

The Venezuelan mother of two preschool aged kids said she’d been worried that their days at the hotel they’d lived in for the last year were numbered, and had been hunting for an apartment for the past two months. Adding to her urgency was her toddler’s recent diagnosis with sickle cell disease. Her doctor had urged her to feed him foods rich in iron, which was nearly impossible to do without access to a kitchen at the hotel.

“We wanted to move but they’re asking for $6,000 and we don’t have that much saved up yet” to pay upfront to cover rent and a security deposit, she said. “There are people that won’t accept children. There are people that won’t accept four people. We’ve gone to see apartments in Brooklyn in Queens. We’ve been searching.”

The 60-day notices will begin by targeting around 4,000 families living in eight so-called Humanitarian Resource and Relief Centers, run by the city’s Health + Hospitals system, city officials confirmed last week. These include the Row, the Stewart, the Watson and the Roosevelt hotels, all in Manhattan. Most migrant families in the city shelter system—  around 8,000 of them according to city data from September — live across 140 hotels overseen by the Department of Homeless Services, which is subject to state oversight. The city hasn’t received state permission to issue those notices.

A family leaves the Row NYC migrant shelter in Times Square.
A family leaves the Row NYC migrant shelter in Times Square, Oct. 18, 2023. Credit: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

Still, the notices to leave within 60 days will doubtless have a dramatic impact on the roughly 15,000 adults and children making up 4,000 families who will be receiving them. The first of those notices will come due just after Christmas, potentially forcing families to move midway through the school year. Many students already missed months or even years of schooling before their arduous journey to New York City, and have just begun acclimating to their schools.

“I think we’d probably have to have the kids stop studying for a time while we get situated,”said Laura Renjifo, 29, in Spanish, who was selling arepas from a cooler outside the Row.

‘It’s Really Hard’

At a press conference last week, Mayor Eric Adams promised no child’s education would be interrupted by the 60-day notices. Education advocates balked at that promise, saying it would be virtually impossible to fulfill — with one member of the mayor’s school policy advisory panel calling it “a complete disaster for school kids.”

While federal law  grants homeless students the right to stay in their school of origin and to be provided with transportation to and from it, families who have to move will potentially have to choose between arduous commutes or transferring their kids to new schools.

Renjifo said she ran into an Ecuadorian woman staying at the hotel who told her she’d been told she would get only a 30-day warning because she’d been at the hotel for longer.

City Limits reported on Wednesday that 371 newly arrived migrant families with children were already on 30-day clocks, through a new hotel vouchering program that forces families to reapply for a new room after their time expires.

“She started to cry, because she has nowhere to go with the kids. It’s really hard,” Renjifo said. “I’m just waiting for my work permit, and I hope it comes soon so if I get one of the 60-day notices, I can save as much as I can to be able to rent an apartment.”

The city’s announcement that some migrant families would begin receiving 60-day notices to leave shelters is the Adams administration’ latest attempt to tamp down on the ever-ballooning shelter population. More than 118,000 people including 64,000 migrants were staying in city shelters, the mayor said last Tuesday.

The city had previously announced policy shifts aimed at reducing the shelter population, giving adults in the system just 30 days before they have to leave and re-apply for shelter. Along with the 60-day notices for families, the mayor also announced that newly arriving families with children would be sent to a soon-to-be-erected tent shelter at Brooklyn’s Floyd Bennett Field, a former airstrip on Jamaica Bay, that city officials have euphemistically described as a “semi-congregate” setting. Until now, families with children have been staying in hotel rooms.

Speaking at the Tuesday press conference, Deputy Mayor Anne Williams-Isom said about half of the adults without children in the shelter system who’d received 60- or 30- day notices had left without reapplying, opening up valuable space. She acknowledged families with children were a very different story.

As a child advocate I know how important it is for children to have consistency, stability and especially children who have gone through what these young people have gone through,” said Williams-Isom, a former deputy commissioner in the city’s Administration for Children’s Services. “We really want to make sure that we’re making room at the front door. So giving people a time limit so that they can get connected to family members and other opportunities, we think is the tools that we have.”

Many hotel residents said they hadn’t heard anything about 60-day notices until they were approached Tuesday afternoon by a reporter for THE CITY.

“They haven’t told us anything about that. We’re waiting to see what happens, said Susana Encalada, an Ecuadorian mother of five, who’d been staying at the Row since January. Without work authorization, she’d taken to selling food on the streets, where she said she earns about $200 a week.

“Two hundred dollars a week for an apartment? No, no, it’s not enough,” the 47-year-old said.

“Where will they send us?” she said. “I’m asking myself, ‘What will happen to us?’”

This story was published by THE CITY on October 23, 2023.

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