New York City is opening its latest checkpoint for recently arrived immigrants, this time converting a hotel near Madison Square Garden into an intake and assessment center with rooms for nearly 300 families and single adults, City Limits has learned.

Adi Talwar

The Stewart Hotel in Midtown Manhattan, which city officials will use as an intake and temporary shelter site for asylum seekers.

New York City opened its latest checkpoint for recently arrived immigrants Friday, this time converting a hotel near Madison Square Garden into an intake and assessment center with rooms for nearly 300 families and single adults, City Limits has learned. 

The intake facility—dubbed the Asylum Seeker Support Program, or ASSP, by the Department of Homeless Services (DHS)—is located inside the 618-room Stewart Hotel on 7th Avenue. The site will be run by Acacia Network, a nonprofit that the city has repeatedly tapped to stand-up new shelters inside hotels amid a dramatic rise in the homeless population in recent months.

The hotel will have rooms reserved for 120 families with children, 100 single adult men, 50 single adult women and 25 adult families who are seeking asylum or who have otherwise recently arrived in New York City, DHS said. Stays will be short-term, akin to existing assessment shelters located around the five boroughs, before households are referred to longer-term accommodations, the agency added.

A handful of families were directed to the facility on Friday, and more will be referred there immediately after arriving at the nearby Port Authority bus terminal or one of DHS’ existing intake sites, officials said. The site will begin running at full capacity in the coming weeks.

“This program exemplifies our continued efforts to ensure that we are providing dedicated wrap-around supports to asylum seekers who are coming to us in their greatest hour of need,” DHS told City Limits in a statement Thursday. 

The new site marks a different approach by the city when it comes to assigning shelter to newly arrived immigrants, tens of thousands of whom have come to New York in recent months, some of them bused from southern border states by Republican governors. Families with children seeking shelter have previously applied for rooms at the city’s lone family intake site, known as PATH, in the Bronx. Single men must visit a large shelter on East 30th Street, across from Bellevue Hospital, and women head to a shelter on Franklin Avenue in The Bronx. 

The city has faced questions after previously planning to house families with children at the same facility as single adults in an earlier hotel plan that was nixed earlier this month. But Josh Goldfein, a staff attorney in Legal Aid’s Homeless Rights Project, said he was reserving judgment of the latest plan until he learned more details. Legal Aid and the Coalition for the Homeless are court-appointed monitors of the DHS shelter system stemming from a landmark 1979 ruling that established New York City’s unique right to shelter.

“We have to see it,” Goldfein said, adding that the state’s Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance (OTDA), which sets shelter regulations, “doesn’t usually like it when the city mixes populations at one site.”

OTDA did not immediately respond to an email seeking a response to the Stewart Hotel plan. 

DHS said Acacia will set up separate intake areas for families with children, adult families and single adults. Some families and individuals will be referred to beds on higher floors and Acacia staff will provide or make referrals for case management, counseling, medical treatment and other services.  

When City Limits visited the hotel Thursday morning, there was no indication that the site would become a makeshift emergency shelter in a matter of hours.

Amtrak staff gathered in the lobby for an event and a contracted security guard sat near a side door. Guests with luggage entered and exited the building while tourists with reservations spoke with the concierge. One man had booked a three-day stay and was told to return to the hotel for a 4 p.m. check-in. An employee told City Limits that paying guests will stay in about half the rooms in the 28-floor hotel, while the other half will be reserved for the newly arrived immigrants and Acacia intake operations.

Acacia directed questions to DHS.

A DHS spokesperson said the agency is working with the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs to identify families and individuals to visit the intake facility, as well the Department of Education and the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to enroll children in schools and meet their health needs.

The facility is the latest temporary waystation for newly arrived immigrants seeking shelter and other services as the number of people in DHS-contracted shelters continues to rise, surpassing  60,000 people, according to population data tracked daily by City Limits. That marks a roughly 25 percent increase since Jan. 1, driven largely by a rising number of asylum-seekers and other newly arrived immigrants, including some bused from border states by far-right governors. 

Typically, people who arrive in New York City from other places are outliers in the city’s shelter system. Data from 2017 and 2021 obtained by City Limits through Freedom of Information Law requests show that 93 to 96 percent of shelter residents gave a last permanent address within the five boroughs.

Meanwhile, more New York City families and individuals are entering DHS shelters due to soaring rents, shrinking affordable housing stock, steadily rising eviction rates, capacity problems inside youth shelters, transfers from domestic violence shelters and exits from jails and prisons without permanent housing in place.

Construction of a 1000-bed refugee camp-style facility is underway in an Orchard Beach parking lot prone to flooding. The city has hired a contractor who previously worked on President Donald Trump’s border wall, Politico reported Friday. That plan has encountered sharp criticism from immigrant rights’ advocates. Members of the City Council’s Immigration Committee held a rally opposing the proposal Friday morning. 

The new intake and assessment site could limit the number of people referred to the Orchard Beach camp, at least initially. The facility is located in a Bronx district represented by Councilmember Marjorie Velazquez, who has opposed a residential rezoning in Throggs Neck that has earned the vocal support of Mayor Eric Adams. 

Officials from the Mayor’s Office have told City Limits that people will not be referred to the camp from DHS’ 30th Street Men’s intake facility. Attendance at the camp will be voluntary and recently arrived immigrants in need of a bed can still apply for a traditional shelter space at DHS intake sites, City & State reported earlier this week

The Adams administration has also considered other controversial housing options, including summer camps and cruise ships, for newly arrived immigrants. DHS has so far leased rooms in at least 38 hotels to meet the need for shelter space and is now trying to consolidate immigrant families in specific venues. 

Videos shared with City Limits show families at Gramercy’s Marcel Hotel, one of the first hotels leased amid the current rise in the city’s shelter population, being loaded onto yellow school buses on the night of Sept. 28. City officials said families are being transported to shelters with more comprehensive, language-specific services.