NEW YORK -- Mayor Eric Adams said Tuesday that more than 100 migrants were housed in a Manhattan shelter even though it ultimately was found to be unsafe because the city has few options — and that New Yorkers could soon see migrants sleeping on the streets.
“We are out of room,” Adams said.
The removal of migrants Monday from the shelter at the old Touro College building on the West Side was prompted by an FDNY inspection that found it didn’t have a functioning fire safety system in place.
At a news briefing Tuesday, Adams said the migrant crisis has become so dire in the city that it isn’t a matter of “if” people will be sleeping on the streets, “it’s when.”
“What we are concerned about is we are going to run out of places, and you’re going to start to see people sleeping on the streets,” he said, later adding, “This is going to hurt, and it’s not going to be pretty.”
Regarding the situation at the Touro building — and vacate orders at migrant shelters — Adams said migrants aren’t going to be put in places where a “life-threatening issue” exists and that the city wouldn’t violate safety laws.
Fire alarms have been out of service at the Touro shelter for months. Adams’ chief of staff, Camille Joseph Varlack said the city put in place “mitigating strategies” like hiring people to serve as “fire guards” during that time period. When the FDNY returned to conduct additional inspections, Varlack said, they found the city’s safety measures insufficient.
“Every single location was opened with the FDNY and Department of Buildings having come in and done an inspection,” she said.
A spokesman for the FDNY declined to comment on the situation at Touro and referred questions to Adams’ press office.
Shelters such as the one at Touro were initially viewed as stopgaps for housing migrants, according to one administration official. When FDNY inspectors examined the facility, they did so with that in mind, but after three months — when it became clear it was no longer functioning in a temporary capacity — the inspectors opted to shut it down, the official noted.
The Touro facility is one of several city-run sites the fire department has slapped with vacate orders due to safety violations. Another site on that list includes St. John’s Villa Academy, a shuttered Staten Island school that was the target of anti-migrant protests for weeks.
Adams wouldn’t say Tuesday how many migrant shelters have received similar vacate orders from the fire department.
The controversy over where and how to shelter migrants has been boiling over for months. Adams has projected the migrant crisis will cost the city $12 billion by 2025 and has said it will “destroy” the city if not addressed properly. At turns, he’s taken swipes at both President Joe Biden and the state government for not doing enough to help the city.
On Tuesday, his deputy mayor, Anne Williams-Isom directed her own frustration at the state government, noting that it has only accepted about 20 families as part of the its migrant resettlement program — a drop in the bucket when considering the more than 120,000 migrants who’ve arrived to the city since last year and more than 60,000 remain in city care.
“I wish I could say I could stop at 20 families,” she said. “Every day we are trying to figure out how do we make sure that people are where they need to be.”
She added that the city has referred over 100 families to the state program and that about 75 units are now available.
“They’ve hit some obstacles,” she said of the state’s resettlement efforts. “We’re waiting for furniture, or we’re waiting for other things. I might be like, ‘Let’s put an air mattress in there and let’s get this done.’ Somehow people don’t have the same sense of urgency, I think, that we do.”
Williams-Isom said the situation shows why the city needed to force single adult migrants out of shelter after 30 days and families with children out after 60 days — a policy that’s weathered criticisms for creating more chaos and instability for already struggling asylum seekers.
“That’s the only way I’m going to be able to make space in this system for people who come through the front door,” she said.
Adams voiced his own frustrations Tuesday.
He told reporters he wants ideas “from anywhere on the globe” about how to help address the crisis and suggested his administration hold a roundtable with “those who have great ideas that think they know how to solve this problem.”
“I’m open to have folks come into the room with their ideas of how they solve having 2,500 people and somedays 4,000 a week,” he said.
The mayor also said that accepting migrants sleeping on the streets is “new territory” for the city. While planning around that is not yet entirely clear, the city would aim to prioritize assistance for children and families.