Migrants and Advocates Brace for New Rules Governing Shelter Spots

Migrants and Advocates Brace for New Rules Governing Shelter Spots
The St. Brigid shelter re-ticketing site in the East Village, April 25, 2024. Credit: Gwynne Hogan/THE CITY

By Gwynne Hogan

Any adult migrant without children seeking shelter will soon be warned they will only get one 30-day stay, which can be extended under “extenuating circumstances.”

Extension requests will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis, officials have said, and if one isn’t granted, adult migrants could be booted from city shelters permanently, with the first evictions slated for the second half of May.

Migrants may also appeal for a shelter extension if they can prove they made “significant efforts” to leave the shelter system, although it is not yet clear who those two criteria will be implemented together.

Kayla Mamelak, a spokesperson for City Hall, said the new system will kick in in the next few days, though the process thus far has been subject to delays.

The new system was hammered out in a March settlement with Coalition for the Homeless and the Legal Aid Society over the city’s decades old “right to shelter” protections.

But even as advocates and city officials alike prepare for its rollout, many questions remain about how the novel process will play out. Some advocates fear that as the permanent shelter denials begin kicking in, New York City could see a massive surge in street homelessness.

Even Legal Aid Attorney Josh Goldfein, who helped set the terms of the deal with the city lawyers over months of negotiations, expressed trepidation.

“We are very concerned that this could result in people being turned away into the street,” he said.

Legal Aid attorney Josh Goldfein speaks in State Supreme Court during a hearing on the right to shelter law.
Legal Aid attorney Josh Goldfein speaks in State Supreme Court during a hearing on the right to shelter law, March 15, 2024. Credit: Alex Krales/THE CITY

The latest rules do not apply to families with children, some of whom are subject to 60-day limits on their shelter stays, and can reapply at the Roosevelt Hotel for another stint.

“While full implementation of these new changes isn’t going to be perfected overnight, we are confident this will help migrants move on to the next stage in their journeys, reduce the massive strain on our shelter system, and allow us to continue delivering important services to all New Yorkers,” Mamelak said.

‘You May Qualify for More Time’

Under previous rules, adult migrants were limited to 30-day stays but could reapply for additional stays multiple times. Though that wait for shelter at times stretched to more than two weeks during the winter months, most adults who waited long enough eventually received another shelter placement.

Officials have made great strides at reducing wait times to under one or two days since March, when the city agreed to eliminate the days-long wait for shelter.

But the new system will now force adult migrants seeking shelter to prove that they fall within a set of “extenuating circumstances” or that they’ve made “significant effort” to move out of the shelter system.

According to a notice of denial and acceptance forms obtained by THE CITY, city officials will consider granting extensions for extenuating circumstances such as:

  • If you signed a lease and you’re slated to move in in under 30 days
  • If you just had or are about to have a serious medical procedure in under 30 days
  • If you have a ticket to leave New York City in under 30 days
  • If you have an immigration proceeding in under 30 days
  • If you are attending high school or high school equivalency program

For migrants who don’t fit those criteria, officials may also evaluate whether you made “significant efforts” to leave the shelter system, including:

  • Attending a job training
  • Applying for health benefits
  • Following shelter rules
  • Attending meetings with a caseworker
  • Attending legal services meetings
  • Applying for immigration relief
  • Looking for or finding a job
  • Contacting with friends and family in the U.S. where you could stay
  • Getting a government ID or a tax ID
  • Taking English classes
  • Attending college or community college
  • Other significant efforts

But meeting these criteria does not guarantee a shelter placement, according to a copy of the reminder notice obtained by THE CITY, which only says “you may qualify for more time.”

“The more steps you take, the more likely you will be able to show that you have made significant efforts,” the notice reads. “You should document any of the steps you take to exit temporary shelter, either by bringing in a document or by taking photos on your phone showing the steps you took.”

If migrants are denied shelter, they will be able to request a review of the decision by sending an email to the address ASOReview@oem.nyc.gov explaining any factual errors in the decision, according to the notice.

The forms also include a QR code at the bottom with a link to a city resource guide for migrants.

‘The Horror of Everything’

In the weeks leading up to the rollout of the stricter policy, advocates have been trying to read the tea leaves about the new system, and spread whatever information they have about it to migrants in shelters.

Jamie Powlovich, the director of the Coalition for Homeless Youth, said she’s been counseling youth to create a photo album on their phone and take pictures of every place they go to try to find work. She also instructs them to collect flyers for any classes or trainings they attend.

“We’re encouraging young people to have way more documentation than they’ll need as opposed to not not having enough,” she said.

Under the new rules, young adults between the ages of 18 and 23 will now get 60-days in shelters instead of 30.

But Powlovich said there’s no certainty about what combination of proof might be deemed acceptable to warrant a shelter extension after the 60 days.

“That’s part of the horror of everything,” she said. “You’re trying to do harm reduction work with these young people, preparing them for processes that we don’t even know what they are yet. This is literally the difference between having a roof over someone’s head and sleeping on the street.”

‘I Thought It Was a Joke’

The 30-day one-time stay for adults is the latest evolution of the city’s ad hoc migrant shelter system created over the past two years to accommodate the unprecedented influx of migrants arriving from the southern border. The city has estimated that responding to the surge has cost $4.2 billion through the end of March. 

From hotels to warehouses to school gyms to tents, the city has opened more than 200 emergency shelters to house more than 64,000 migrants. Those shelters are governed by a constantly changing and often opaque set of rules and policies that can vary from facility to facility, depending on a host of subcontractors and the different agencies overseeing them.

A sprawling single-men’s migrant shelter sits next to a migrant family shelter on Hall Street in Brooklyn
A single-men’s migrant shelter sits next to a migrant family shelter on Hall Street in Brooklyn, Feb. 21, 2024. Credit: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

As with prior changes, rumors have spread amongst shelter residents — some of whom could face permanent evictions in the coming weeks — with little to no formal communication from city officials thus far.

“I thought it was a joke,” said Amadou Yero in French, a 23-year-old asylum seeker from Guinea, who said he’d heard rumors about potential changes to the city’s shelter system from WhatsApp groups. “A lot of false information circulates between us.”

Yero said he had no idea what he’d do if he faced a permanent lock out from city shelters.

“I don’t have any member of my family here who would take me in, I don’t have any close friends,” he said. “It’s going to be difficult for us.”

This story was published by THE CITY on April 26, 2024.

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