Hundreds of recently-arrived immigrant families with children have been subject to 28-day limits on hotel shelter stays in recent months, as the city insists it’s run out of space to lodge them. The program is separate from a broader announcement Mayor Eric Adams made Monday, as his administration plans further shelter deadlines for a population long singled out as a priority for stable placements. 

Adams administration press briefing

Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office

“We are really, really struggling with families with children,” Mayor Eric Adams said at a press briefing Tuesday, following the city’s announcement that it will begin issuing 60-day notices to immigrant families with kids in shelter.

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Having gone through the process before, Dieufrant went alone last week to reapply for shelter at the city’s arrival center for asylum seekers, at the Roosevelt Hotel.

The 28 days he and his family had been given to stay at a hotel in the Bronx had expired, and Dieufrant—who asked that his full name not be used for fear of retaliation—knew reapplying for placement in the system would take hours. He didn’t want to keep his 5-year-old daughter and wife waiting to be assigned.

His is one of hundreds of recently-arrived immigrant families with children who’ve been subject to time limits on their shelter stays in recent months, as the city insists it’s run out of space to lodge them. As of last week, 371 households were staying in 14 hotels on 28-day stays as part of the so-called Hotel Vouchering Program, an increase of 150 families from last month, when City Limits first reported on it. 

The program is separate from a broader announcement Mayor Eric Adams made Monday afternoon, as his administration plans further disrupted shelter stays for a population he has long singled out as a priority for stable placements. 

In a press release, the Adams administration said that recently-arrived immigrant families with minor children will be subject to a limit of 60 days in shelter and will receive intensified case management—a policy modeled after one instituted for adults without children over the summer. 

“Single adults, families that don’t have children, we can sort of say, you know, folks gotta figure this out,” Adams told reporters at a press briefing Tuesday. “But we are really, really struggling with families with children. That is a real struggle with this administration. But we are out of room. I cannot be clearer.” 

There are currently 118,000 people staying across the city’s shelter systems, according to City Hall, compared to about 60,500 in January 2022. Of this population, more than 64,000 are recently-arrived immigrants, who came to New York City in large numbers starting in the spring of last year. More than 75 percent are parents and children.

When a family’s shelter time is up, they can return to the city’s asylum seeker intake center and apply for another placement—a process advocates have denounced as unnecessarily disruptive, especially for families with school-aged children.

For Dieufrant, shuffled under the previously-established Hotel Vouchering Program, it meant returning to his hotel room in the Bronx to pack up everything. His family was then sent to a hotel in Queens, for another 28-day stay. 

“They assigned us far away,” he said in Spanish. “The last station on the A train, after the sea ends.”

A spokesperson for the city’s Department of Housing Preservation & Development (HPD), which oversees the Hotel Vouchering Program, called it a “last resort when we have no other option.” The city has issued the 28-day vouchers to 1,121 households since July.

“On many occasions we have leaned on this program to ensure newly-arriving families have a roof over their heads,” Press Secretary William Fowler said in a statement. “While it’s not our preferred solution, nor a permanent one, it is a daily struggle to secure the necessary space at scale with this crisis.”

As 60 day notices begin to roll out to families with children, the struggle could be felt more widely, if unevenly across the city’s numerous shelter systems.

Last year, when immigrants began arriving in New York City in waves, the Adams administration stood up emergency shelters operated by a range of agencies beyond the Department of Homeless Services (DHS). 

Of the 13,533 families categorized as asylum seekers in city care as of Sept. 30, 60 percent, or more than 8,100, were in DHS care. This is relevant, because the state Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance (OTDA) oversees DHS shelters, ensuring compliance with state law. 

In August, OTDA denied the city’s request to issue 60 day notices to adults without kids in DHS shelters, narrowing that policy’s scope. And on Tuesday, an OTDA spokesperson confirmed that the office had not yet received a request from the city to issue the time limits to immigrant families with children. 

Asked about the need for state permission at Tuesday’s press conference, Deputy Mayor Anne Williams-Isom said that the first 60-day notices will be issued to families staying in Humanitarian Emergency Response and Relief Centers, or HERRCs, which are run by NYC Health + Hospitals (H+H).

She added that her team is working closely with OTDA. “I think we’ll get there… because everybody is so concerned about how we’re going to take care of families and children and everyone knows that the only way that we can do that is through some time limits and some intensive case practice,” she said.   

Mayor Adams said Tuesday that the city will work with the Department of Education to make sure children who are already enrolled in school do not need to transfer if they have to move shelters. 

“I want to be very clear on this—no child will have their education interrupted,” he said. 

But advocates are skeptical. Jennifer Pringle, project director at Advocates for Children, said the new shelter stay deadlines “will be extremely disruptive for children, and families, and school communities that provide support.”

“This policy is created to disrupt whatever type of support families had,” she said.

Concern is also jelling around another Adams administration proposal announced this week: to shelter immigrant families with minors in a tent facility at Floyd Bennett Field, a federal site on Jamaica Bay in southern Brooklyn. According to City Hall, the facility will open in the coming weeks, and will serve about 500 recently-arrived immigrant families. 

The city plans to install privacy dividers with locks to keep families separate. Still, the move would mark a dramatic shift—to date, families with kids have been sheltered in private rooms. Temporary family placements in a gym in Manhattan this spring were met with immediate backlash.

The Legal Aid Society, which is tasked with enforcing the city’s shelter rights on behalf of homeless New Yorkers, may challenge the Floyd Bennett plan in court. 

In 2008, Legal Aid entered a stipulation with the city in a state lawsuit called Boston v. City of New York, establishing the right to shelter for families with minor children. The Boston stipulation also established a responsibility to provide certain standards of care.  

“The City shall provide shelter facilities for families with children that are safe, sanitary and decent as defined by applicable law,” it states. 

Josh Goldfein, staff attorney with the Legal Aid Society, said the safety requirement under Boston is key. “Really the important word in the Boston judgment is ‘safe,’” he said. “It has to be safe.” A state regulation requires that families with children get a space with a locking door, he added. 

As for new notices limiting shelter stays for families with children, Legal Aid has maintained that a violation of the right to shelter occurs if a person or family is denied another shelter placement after their 60 days are up. 

Deborah Berkman, supervising attorney of the Shelter Advocacy Initiative at New York Legal Assistance Group (NYLAG), agreed that denying alternative placements to families would be a “clear violation” of Boston. 

But she also said that moving families around every 60 days could violate Boston’s decency requirement. 

“I believe moving people around every 60 days is neither safe, sanitary nor decent,” she said. “It’s extremely punitive to children who are innocent victims of these policies. And these families came here for a new and better life for their children. Why are we treating these children so badly?”

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