City Hall says it has not yet begun implementing assessments of the “extenuating circumstances” that could earn newly arrived immigrants an extended shelter stay—while some seeking another placement continue to sleep on the floor of a church now being used as an “overnight hospitality center.”

Daniel Parra

The line outside the St. Brigid’s School in East Village on Monday, where immigrants whose initial shelter stays have expired reapply for another placement. The city was supposed to eliminate wait times by April 8 as part of a legal settlement.

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Migrants reapplying for a city shelter bed continued to line up outside the former St. Brigid’s School in the East Village on Monday, despite a deadline that day under a recent legal settlement requiring the city to eliminate wait times for another placement in the system.

Under the new settlement terms—struck in March following months of negotiations between the city and homeless advocates over New York’s long-standing right to shelter rules—newly arrived immigrants in need of another bed after an initial 30- or 60-day stint may only qualify for an extension under “extenuating circumstances,” unless they are disabled.

As part of the deal, the city is also required to revamp so-called “waiting areas” where those seeking another placement have been sent to stay overnight, but which now must include services such as restrooms, bathrooms, showers and cots.

But that wasn’t the case on Monday, the day the settlement was slated to go into effect.

Amada Castillo, 37, who came to New York City from Ecuador in November, arrived at St. Brigid’s at about 10 a.m., looking for a new bed after her time at a shelter near JFK Airport ran out on Monday.

After waiting several hours, she received an address on a slip of paper and a single ride on a MetroCard to the Historic First Church of God in Brooklyn, which the city has recently begun using as an “overnight hospitality center,” for those reapplying.

However, the overnight center had no cots, forcing migrants to sleep on the floor.

“Fortunately, I carried a blanket yesterday,” Castillo told City Limits in Spanish.

“But one blanket was not enough,” she added about the cold she felt in the church’s events room, where she slept with what she estimated were 25 other people. “An acquaintance lent me a blanket.”

Shared with City Limits

Migrants sleeping on the floor of a Brooklyn church being used as an “overnight hospitality center” for those seeking another shelter bed.

City Hall said they are working to bring other sites and more beds online—like the recently opened shelter along the Gowanus Canal—as quickly as possible, as the city continues to receive migrants and work to move them out of shelter. 

“While this work isn’t going to be perfected overnight,” City Hall spokesperson Kayla Mamelak said in a statement, “we are confident the stipulation will stabilize and protect our shelter system, ensuring New York City can continue to support those most in need and deliver important services for all New Yorkers.”

Josh Goldfein, an attorney at the Legal Aid Society, which helped negotiate the right to shelter settlement with the city alongside Coalition for the Homeless, said the administration has acknowledged the issue and will add more beds to come into compliance. 

“And we’re monitoring that very closely,” Goldfein said.

Deputy Mayor Anne Williams-Isom said Tuesday that City Hall is still working to roll out the new system, and to make sure the people assessing immigrants’ cases are trained so decisions are standardized.

“So we haven’t technically started to implement the extenuating circumstances yet, but we’re having really good conversations with Legal Aid to make sure that we are taking all the time that we need to make sure we get it right,” Williams-Isom said. 

Under the settlement rules, migrants may qualify for longer shelter stays if they make efforts to exit the system, have an upcoming immigration hearing or a medical procedure or are recovering from one, among other scenarios.

But while it is being implemented, immigrants said, things remain much the same as they did before the settlement was struck: those hoping for another bed after an initial shelter stay are still sleeping on the floor at overnight sites, getting up at 6 a.m., and standing in line to reapply at St. Brigid’s.

David Giffen, executive director of the Coalition for the Homeless, said no one wants to see anyone who needs shelter denied it.

“The Mayor likes to brag about how NYC doesn’t have the sprawling street encampments seen in other cities,” he said via email, “but that’s because we have a legal right to shelter, so I’m not sure complying with the law merits a boast.”

Shared with City Limits

The line inside the St. Brigid’s School on Monday, where immigrants whose shelter deadlines have expired were reapplying for another bed.

Late last month, the city began giving out new notices to immigrants in the shelter system outlining the new settlement rules and the “extenuating circumstances” that might warrant an extension.

But none of those City Limits spoke to Monday had received those notices; City Hall said they paused handing them out until application standards are clear. 

In the meantime, some migrants are being told they will no longer be given shelter after their first 30- or 60- day periods end.

At the last shelter she stayed at, “I was told I could not reapply,” said Castillo.

But that shouldn’t be the case, according to Goldfein. “That would not be correct,” he said.

On Monday, some migrants who’d been waiting at St. Brigid’s left without talking to the staff or reapplying for placements, preferring to find their own way to spend the night.

“There are hundreds of people applying there,” Yesid Cuellar said as he dragged his luggage down East 7th Street near Tompkins Square Park. “They kind of don’t want to give shelter anymore. They just trick you.”

After spending the night at the Brooklyn church, Castillo returned Tuesday morning to apply again and waited with those in line with her. In the afternoon, she and other migrants returned to the church and slept on the floor for the second night in a row.

“What’s important is that there’s a ceiling while you’re stabilizing,” she added.

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