Strained for shelter space, the Adams administration confirmed it was exploring the possibility of using camp facilities “should they become necessary,” to house asylum seekers arriving from the Southern border. The city has relied on commercial hotels and other stopgap facilities to quickly add shelter capacity for decades, but camps would be a new sort of accommodation for families.
With New York City’s homeless population on the rise, the Adams Administration may turn to summer camps to house recently arrived immigrants who would otherwise enter the strained shelter system, City Limits has learned.
A Department of Social Services (DSS) official contacted the American Camp Association of New York and New Jersey on Thursday to discuss using summer camps for immigrants who have made their way to New York City shortly after crossing the Southern Border, said Alicia Skovera, the group’s executive director. The conversation prompted Skovera to send an email to camp providers with the subject “Call For Assistance – Space Needed for Texas Families at Camps.”
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“I’m reaching out today because NYC’s Mayor Adams is seeking help solving a housing challenge for families that are coming to NYC from Texas,” Skovera wrote to providers in the email obtained by City Limits. “Mayor Adams has federal support and money earmarked for this initiative to pay host sites. If you are interested and can house families, please respond to this email.”
Skovera acknowledged the email in a brief conversation with City Limits before then contacting DSS for more clarification. She called back a few minutes later and said the agency told her that the city would turn to summer camps only after they “exhaust all housing options inside New York City.”
A DSS spokesperson confirmed that summer camps may be on the table in the future as the city seeks extra shelter space.
“We are exploring every legal option for housing asylum seekers in New York City with high-quality shelter,” the spokesperson said. “While summer camps are not currently an option, we would be open to considering similar options in the future, should they become necessary and that they follow all state regulations.”
The Adams Administration has struggled to contend with the rising number of families and individuals seeking shelter in the Department of Homeless Services (DHS) system, an increase that the mayor has pinned on a steady flow of asylum-seekers and recently-arrived immigrants from states along the Southern Border. New York City has a unique right to shelter that allows anyone who visits an intake facility to receive a bed in some sort of temporary shelter, though families may be found ineligible after a 10-day stay.
DHS says 6,300 individual asylum seekers or other newly arrived immigrants have entered the shelter system between April and Aug. 22. About 4,900 were in the shelter system as of mid-August, the agency said. That number includes 1,675 children.
All told, at least 54,195 people slept in a DHS shelter Wednesday night, according to the most recent daily data tracked by City Limits. Since June, the city has leased 15 hotels to meet the need for shelter space, including readily available sites owned by notorious landlords with ties to Adams’ chief of staff Frank Carone, as City Limits first reported last month.
On Aug. 5, the Adams administration issued a request for proposals (RFP) for nonprofit providers to open additional “City Sanctuary Hotels” with capacity for up to 5,000 people and an intake facility specifically for newly arriving immigrants. They had received four bids for the hotel shelters but none for the intake site as of Friday, according to a person familiar with the RFP.
The city has relied on commercial hotels and other stopgap facilities to quickly add shelter capacity for decades, but summer camps would be a new sort of accommodation for families, said Josh Goldfein, the top attorney in the Legal Aid Society’s Homeless Rights Project.
Goldfein said camps may violate local laws related to baseline accommodations. He also questioned who would go to a campground isolated from the city, especially when they may have a pending immigration court appointment.
“We would have serious concerns about whether the city could meet its legal obligations to shelter people at a site that is not in New York city, that is typically used year-round, and that is far removed from the kinds of services and legal venues that people would need to be able to move on with their lives,” he said.
There is some precedent for such a setting: For decades, the city sent homeless adult men to a large institution known as Camp LaGuardia in Orange County, about 70 miles outside the five boroughs. The site, which closed in 2007, fueled social isolation and featured limited services, and few opportunities for employment and permanent housing.
More recently, former Mayor Michael Bloomberg considered using old cruise ships to house people experiencing homelessness.
“We would rather they focus on freeing up space in existing shelters by moving people into permanent housing rather than focusing on far fetched shelter options that may have unintended consequences,” said Coalition for the Homeless Policy Director Jacquelyn Simone.
The Coalition for the Homeless and Legal Aid have authority to monitor the DHS shelter system under two court orders related to the right to shelter. Moving people to “far-flung” campsites or similar settings outside the city would undermine that oversight, Simone said.
The increase in immigrants seeking shelter coincides with an annual summer rise in the system, as families often wait until the end of the school year before leaving unstable living arrangements. Evictions are also increasing following the end of statewide protections in January, though DSS has said that only 1 percent of families entering shelter this year have reported an eviction as the reason they became homeless, compared to about 10 percent prior to the pandemic.
DSS appeared to be caught flat-footed by the increase, with at least five immigrant families forced to stay overnight in a Bronx intake office despite arriving before 10 p.m., in violation of city law enacted in 1999 after families were routinely forced to sleep on the office floor, sometimes for several nights, in order to qualify for and access temporary shelter. Former DSS spokesperson Julia Savel said she was fired after alerting City Hall that Commissioner Gary Jenkins had tried to hide the overnight stays. Jenkins and Adams have denied the accusation.
The rise seems likely to continue as more New Yorkers become homeless due to economic reasons—the main driver of homelessness—including inflation and record-high rents.
Immigrants who recently crossed the Southern Border also continue to arrive in New York City each day. In many cases, the trips are financed by nonprofit organizations and aid groups who meet with the migrants after they arrive in the U.S.
But the trend was exacerbated earlier this month when Gov. Greg Abbott began chartering buses from border facilities to New York City in a political stunt aimed at targeting liberal lawmakers with little support for the people impacted, who arrived with few resources or even basic supplies. Some who spoke with City Limits said they were given just fig bars to eat during the days-long bus ride. Some said they had no intention of going to New York at all, while others said they were eager to find work in a city of immigrants and opportunity. At least some, including a 3-month-old, have been hospitalized or required immediate medical attention upon arriving.
Adams addressed the need for extra shelter capacity during an appearance on ABC Aug. 18.
“We’re going to look at our hotels, we’re going to look at those spaces that we have outside of the major business districts,” Adams said. “We’re going to look at places where people are able to have the dignity and respect that they deserve.”