New York City converts hotels into shelters as pressure mounts to accommodate asylum seekers

NEW YORK: The historic Roosevelt Hotel in midtown Manhattan closed three years ago, but it will soon be bustling again – reopening to accommodate an expected influx of asylum seekers just like the others New York City hotels are converted into emergency shelters.
Mayor Eric Adams announced on Saturday that the city will use the Roosevelt to eventually provide up to 1,000 rooms for migrants expected to arrive in the coming weeks due to the expiration of pandemic-era rules, known collectively as Title 42 , which had allowed federal officials to turn away asylum seekers from the US border with Mexico.
Across the city, hotels like the Roosevelt that welcomed tourists just a few years ago are being turned into emergency shelters, many of which are within walking distance of Times Square, the World Trade Center Memorial Site and the Empire State Building. A legal mandate requires the city to provide shelter to anyone who needs it.
Even so, Adams says the city lacks room for migrants and has requested financial assistance from state and federal governments.
“New York City has now supported more than 65,000 asylum seekers – already opening more than 140 emergency shelters and eight large-scale humanitarian assistance centers in addition to this one to manage this national crisis. “said the mayor in a statement announcing the Roosevelt decision.
The legendary hotel near Grand Central Terminal served as the electoral headquarters of New York Governor Thomas Dewey, who in 1948 allegedly falsely announced from the Roosevelt that he had beaten Harry Truman for president.
As the city faces increasing pressure to expand its shelter system, it is turning to vacant hotels for those who need shelter and a place to sleep while they sort out their lives. One of them is the Holiday Inn, located in the Financial District of Manhattan. A few months ago, signs in the lobby windows of the 50-story, 500-room hotel said it was closed.
Scott Markowitz of Tarter Krinsky & Drogin, attorneys for the hotel owner, said reopening as a city-sponsored shelter made financial sense.
“They rent out all the rooms in the hotel for a certain price each night,” Markowitz said, adding that it brought in “much more revenue” than normal operations would have brought in.
It’s not new for the city to turn to hotels for homeless New Yorkers when shelters and other options weren’t available.
During the pandemic, group shelters made it difficult to adhere to social distancing rules, prompting the city to rent out hundreds of hotel rooms as quasi-COVID services. As the pandemic subsided, the city became less reliant on hotels.
That changed when thousands of migrants started arriving by bus last year.
The Watson Hotel on West 57th Street, which once got rave reviews for its rooftop pool and proximity to Central Park, is now used to house migrant families.
“It is our moral and legal obligation to provide shelter to anyone in need,” the city’s Department of Social Services said in a statement. “As such, we have used, and will continue to use, every tool at our disposal to meet the needs of every family and every individual who comes to us seeking shelter.”
Before the influx of asylum seekers, the city faced rising homelessness, crowded shelters and a shortage of affordable housing. New York even announced a plan to send hundreds of migrants to hotels in suburban Orange and Rockland counties across the Hudson River, angering local leaders.
Vijay Dandapani, president and CEO of the New York Hotel Association, said the city needed to find long-term solutions.
“Hotels are not the solution to these situations,” he said, adding that the optics posed problems for taxpayers who might think migrants are living in luxury at their expense.
But some homeless advocates say the private quarters provided by hotel rooms are a better choice than the barracks-style housing the city usually offers.
Kassi Keith, 55, one of the town’s homeless residents, praised the hotel’s arrangement.
“Having your own bedroom, which she gives you, gives you peace of mind,” Keith said. “I can fall asleep with both eyes closed, you don’t have to keep one eye open.”
Earlier this year, dozens of migrants staged a protest after they were kicked out of hotel rooms and forced into barracks set up at the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal, which has limited access to public transportation. They complained about the cold, lack of privacy and lack of bathrooms.
The Roosevelt Hotel will open for the first time this week as a drop-in center providing legal and medical information and resources, officials said. It will also open 175 rooms for families with children, then increase the number of rooms to 850. The city said another 150 rooms will be available for other asylum seekers.
“When you offer people something like a hotel room, you’re much more likely to get a positive response,” said David Giffen, executive director of the Coalition for the Homeless, adding that the rooms offer “intimacy and dignity”.
But Giffen said hotels won’t solve the bigger problem of a lack of affordable, permanent housing.
“What’s behind all of this (is) we have such a broken housing system that low-income people end up using the shelter system as their de facto housing system,” he said. “And then the shelter system doesn’t have enough beds, so we’re using hotels as a de facto shelter system.”


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