Mayor Eric Adams on Monday claimed that the end of a pandemic-era immigration policy sparked the arrival of more than 5,800 migrants in the city over the previous week, straining New York’s homeless shelters and social services. But interviews with volunteers in New York and Texas who help new arrivals with housing, food and transportation say it’s unclear whether migrants from the southern border are responsible for the city’s rising homeless population.
“It’s not clear to me how they are making the determination who is an asylum-seeker and who is a New Yorker that’s searching for shelter,” said Catherine Trapani, executive director of Homeless Services United.
Trapani said the city may be accounting for a larger universe of foreign-born people in dire straits and in need of a place to stay while using the crisis at the southern border as a scapegoat. “I don’t know what their methodology is,” she said.
On Monday, Adams said a sudden uptick in migrant arrivals — he reported more than 5,800 last week and 4,200 the week before — has pushed the city’s safety net systems to the brink. The influx has prompted major policy changes, including a court filing by city officials on Tuesday that aims to suspend New York’s landmark right-to-shelter rules.
City officials have not been clear about how much the influx of migrants arriving from the southern border has contributed to the city’s burgeoning homeless shelter population, which has skyrocketed since last fall.
Data provided by the city to the Coalition for the Homeless and shared with Gothamist shows fewer than 90 migrants sought shelter from the Department of Homeless Services on Sunday, and fewer than 100 requested shelter on Monday. That’s far less than the rate of roughly 602 migrants arriving daily, reported earlier this week by Jacques Jiha, the mayor’s budget director.
“There’s obviously an influx of people coming to New York City, but there’s also New Yorkers who at the end of the eviction moratorium and the end of plentiful [Emergency Rental Assistance Program] are finding themselves in really dire straits and are entering shelter themselves,” Trapani said.
Gothamist requested a count of migrants who arrived last week from Emergency Management; the National Guard; the Department of Housing Preservation and Development; the Department of Social Services; and NYC Health + Hospitals, which are all involved in responding to the migrant situation. Spokespeople from each agency declined to comment and instead referred Gothamist’s questions to the mayor’s office.
But City Hall declined to answer questions about how it arrived at the 5,800 figure, where the migrants came from or how the city tracks individuals to avoid double-counting. Advocates say migrants may be processed in a shelter run by one agency before leaving and re-entering through another system later.
“They’re using cumulative counts, so it’s entirely possible they’re double counting,” Trapani said.
By an estimate from the mayor’s office, roughly 73,000 migrants and asylum-seekers have come through the city’s shelters in the last year, including roughly 44,000 who are currently living in city-run homeless shelters and emergency housing.
Adams and President Joe Biden anticipated an increase of new migrants earlier this month after the end of Title 42, a public health measure that was used to turn people away at the border during the pandemic. But the number of crossings at the U.S.-Mexico border dropped by half compared to the days leading up to the expiration, according to federal officials.
Joe Barron, a program director at the Holding Institute in Laredo, Texas, who has been coordinating migrant transport to New York City, said that fears of a rise in new arrivals haven’t materialized in the southern border town.
“It’s been extremely slow,” Barron told Gothamist. “We’re getting maybe 58 people today – that’s unheard of. Everybody was expecting this massive rush and invasion, but none of it happened.”
Power Malu, a mutual aid worker whose organization has been helping orient new arrivals for the better part of a year at the Port Authority Bus Terminal and at airports, said fewer than 550 migrants arrived at the Port Authority Bus Terminal last week on 11 buses chartered by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott from various cities in his state. Several hundred more migrants landed at the city’s major airports.
A spokesperson for Abbott — whose administration has been busing migrants to Democratic-led northern cities for the last year — confirmed that hundreds of newcomers were bused to New York City last week, but nowhere near as many as the mayor claims.
“Texas has bused a total of 6,900-plus migrants to New York City since we began busing there last year on Aug. 5,” said Renae Eze, Abbott’s director of communications. “That’s over almost one year, not one week.”
“We all wonder where they are getting those numbers,” Malu said. “You’re putting people in these inhumane conditions because you’re saying there’s an overflow and there’s not enough space.”
The number of migrants in the city’s care has prompted the Adams administration to declare a state of emergency, open emergency shelters in hotels, quietly commandeer school gyms and churches to temporarily house people, bus migrants to the city’s northern suburbs, and push measures to weaken long-standing policies around how New York City cares for the homeless.
Fabien Levy, a spokesperson for Adams, said the official figures reflect those who come through the city’s different intake processes and are identified as asylum-seekers.
Both declined to answer specific questions about how the city arrived at last week’s figure of 5,800 or about the methodology behind the stats. City Hall abruptly stopped sending out detailed counts on the city’s migrant population just before reporting a rise in new arrivals.
Local activists fear that the mayor’s office is inflating the number of migrant arrivals to justify its attempt to suspend the city’s right-to-shelter law. Adams said last week that nearly 50% of all hotel rooms in the city are currently occupied by migrants, a claim that the Daily News quickly disputed in a report.
“It seems like we did better in the Ellis Island days,” said Desiree Joy Frias, a community organizer with South Bronx Mutual Aid. “They lived in tenements, but they lived somewhere!”
This story has been updated to correct the number of migrants who arrived at Port Authority last week. It has also been clarified to reflect how city officials track new arrivals.