For the last three months, in instances when no other options are available, the city has provided some families with kids seeking asylum with vouchers for “no-cost hotel stays” for 28 days, after which they need to return to the city’s Arrival Center to seek another placement.

Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office

A scene from one of City Hall’s frequent briefings on how it’s managing asylum seeker shelter placements.

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For the last three months, the city has quietly placed some asylum-seeking families with children under 28-day stays in hotels, City Limits has learned. After the new, shorter time frame runs out, families can return to the city’s Arrival Center at the Roosevelt Hotel to receive another placement as available, a City Hall spokesperson said.

The Hotel Vouchering Program, as it has been called, is separate from the Adams administration’s longer-term agreement for converting entire hotels into emergency shelters to make space for immigrants who continue to arrive in New York, more than 60,000 of whom are currently in the city’s care.

A total of 221 households are being sheltered at hotels using the 28-day vouchers, which are given out when the city has no other available shelter options, a City Hall spokesperson said. The program, in which the city books blocks of hotel rooms as they become free, is being overseen by the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD).

For weeks, there have been reports that City Hall is considering putting migrant families with children on a shortened clock to leave and reapply for shelter as it struggles to meet capacity. But the mayor’s office says the voucher program is only used as a last resort, doesn’t apply to all families with kids in the system and is not a long-term policy, as it is for immigrant adults who are now subject to 30-day shelter limits before they have to reapply for placement.

“Our public servants continue to perform miracles, identifying new locations every day for asylum seekers to sleep and ensuring not a single family with children has been forced to sleep on the streets,” a City Hall spokesperson said via email. “As part of our efforts, for the last three months, we have provided some families seeking asylum with vouchers for 28-day, no-cost hotel stays.”

Families with children currently make up the majority of asylum seekers in the shelter system, accounting for more than 44,000 individuals* in shelters run by various city agencies as of Aug. 31.

“It's really unfortunate,” said Artists, Athletes and Activists founder Power Malu, who has been helping new arrivals with transportation and food. “Once a family is beginning to settle in a community and familiarize themselves [with] where things are located, now you are bouncing them around after 28 days, which makes it more difficult for them to settle in and build community support.”

City Limits spoke with three immigrant families with children who received the 28-day vouchers, and are among 35 households being temporarily sheltered at the Royal Hotel Bronx in the borough’s eastern end. The families arrived at the hotel earlier this month, but unlike other city shelters they have stayed in, they said there are no case managers, social workers, or nurses at the site, and that the receptionist they encountered did not speak Spanish.

City Hall did not respond directly to questions about what services are being offered, but said all hotel voucher recipients are given access to the city’s 24-hour phone line for support. 

Families staying at the Royal who spoke with City Limits also said they’ve received no information about school enrollment for their children since they arrived at the hotel on Sept. 12. This is one of their priorities, they said, as they do not want to be perceived as negligent in the enrollment of their children.

“They are going to ask me where my kid is studying,” said Eduardo, who asked that his full name not be used for fear of retaliation, in Spanish. “Here the law hastens.”

When asked, City Hall said the Arrival Center provided flyers in families’ native language about schooling and enrollment information, and that those with questions can call the city’s phone line to be directed to the Department of Education’s Family Welcome Centers.

But the 28-day timeline under which these families will need to reapply for shelter space could make school more difficult, advocates say.

“Regularly moving children is disruptive and will have negative outcomes for their families, and their schools as well if they are enrolled,” said Joshua Goldfein, an attorney with the Homeless Rights Project at the Legal Aid Society, one of the two organizations representing homeless New Yorkers’ against the city’s effort to challenge longstanding right to shelter rules.

The other complaint from the families has been about lack of food provided. Every third day they receive a box with a stamp in both English and Spanish that reads "3 day shelf stable meal." One of the boxes that City Limits looked at had three small juices, three bottles of water, two small boxes of milk, two small pineapple jellies, three small fruit compotes, and three small packets of Cheez-Its per person.

“Families in hotels should be receiving proper meals,” Goldfein said.

A spokesperson for the mayor's office said they would look into the situation in more detail since each box should include three shelf-stable meals per day (breakfast, lunch, and dinner) for three days, with nine meals in total.

In addition, added the spokesperson, each food box should include a flyer about how to access food resources in the area and across the city, but the box that City Limits viewed did not include one.

“I feel like I am tied up and without information,” said Dieufrant, who asked that his full name not be used for fear of retaliation. “There is no microwave and no refrigerator, so we can't store food. We are going hungry.”

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*Correction: In an editing error, a previous version of this story erroneously stated that there were more than 44,000 asylum-seeking households with children in the shelter system. There are 44,000-plus individuals who are part of families with children currently in the system. City Limits regrets the error.