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‘This is crazy’: Migrants Refuse to Stay at NY’s Floyd Bennett Field Shelter Tents

Published: November 14, 2023
Sid Rosenberg speaks to residents at a rally against the housing of migrants at Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn on Sept.14, 2023 in New York City. (Image: Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Shortly after opening, the first migrant families began arriving by bus at the controversial new shelter facility erected by the Eric Adams administration at Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn. However, many of the migrants, upon first glance at the facility and its tents, promptly refused to stay.

One migrant, who was previously being housed at the Roosevelt Hotel in Midtown Manhattan, told the New York Post, “I cannot stay here. This is crazy.” 

He said he was heading back to the Roosevelt Hotel after city authorities failed to properly disclose his new living arrangements. “They just said they were taking us to a shelter,” the migrant said. 

The tent facility was designed to house around 2,000 migrants and has been marred in controversy since the plan was first unveiled. The site has also raised concerns with fire officials who say the site is too remote and poorly serviced by fire hydrants, which are located half a mile away and are not reliable.

Fire inspectors are also concerned about the use of e-bikes in and around the facility, which have sparked a number of deadly blazes in the city. Many migrants are using e-bikes to work underground food delivery jobs.

The district’s Assemblywoman Jaime Williams, inspected the facility on Nov. 12, and spoke with a member of the city’s Health & Hospitals system who said migrants were frightened to stay at the facility and were concerned about how remote it was.

“When I asked him why did they leave immediately like that, he said people, they were scared. They weren’t sure what they were doing here. They don’t want to be here, and they asked to leave,” adding that, “They said, ‘It’s so isolated, how could I possibly get back and forth to work?’ or, ‘Getting my children to school from here would be insane.’ So they all asked to leave.”


‘A disaster waiting to happen’

Williams said the tent facility is “a disaster waiting to happen,” adding that “it’s one of the coldest days so far. There’s going to be a frost tonight. It’s not the ideal location for anyone to live. There’s no supermarket. There’s no infrastructure.”

She said that she will be approaching the Legal Aid Society, the mayor and governor to lobby them to revoke the lease on the site.

A city spokesman said in a statement that while a number of migrants have refused to stay at the facility, some have opted to remain. 

“As we have said time and time again, more than 139,500 asylum seekers have moved through our intake system since the spring of 2022, all of whom have been offered vital services,” the statement reads.

“But with more than 65,600 migrants still currently in our care, and thousands more continuing to arrive every week, we have used every possible corner of New York City and are quite simply out of good options to shelter migrants.”

Migrants refusing to stay at the facility are asked to sign release forms, but are afforded the option to return to the facility should they so choose. 

On Nov. 12, only 13 families stayed overnight at the facility, which has cost taxpayers an estimated $20.3 million.


Lawmakers sue

In late October, Assemblywoman Williams along with city Councilwoman Joann Ariola sued the Adams’ administration in an attempt to block the city’s plan to house migrants at the facility and called on constituents to protest the site “24/7,” to make their “voices heard loud and clear.” 

Ariola, a Republican, said in a statement at the time, “Placing a shelter here would be wrong for the migrants, and it would be wrong for the people who enjoy the amenities at Floyd Bennett Field. This is the wrong decision all around, and we need to make our voices heard loud and clear on this matter,” adding that, “We need to stand as one strong, united, organized force. Together, we can stop this once and for all.”

The lawsuit alleges that the city is violating zoning laws and development restrictions on the federally managed site. The Adams administration lobbied the White House to allow the facility to be erected on the protected land, a largely unused U.S. military airstrip.

Another issue raised by lawmakers concerns the city’s right-to-shelter mandate. In Late October Adams announced that his administration planned to house migrant families with children at the site despite it being a “congregate” shelter site. 

According to the city’s right-to-shelter mandate it is illegal to house homeless children in congregate settings, which puts minors at risk of sexual abuse and other dangers.

The Legal Aid Society said in a statement, “Sheltering families with children in cramped and open cubicles at Floyd Bennett Field not only raises serious legal questions, but runs afoul of this administration’s previous statements to provide safe and appropriate shelter to this extremely vulnerable population,” adding that, “Private rooms, not open cubicles, are needed to ensure the safety of families with children and to reduce the transmission of infectious diseases, among other obvious reasons.”