New York City opened a sprawling tent camp Wednesday on an isolated East River island to temporarily house hundreds of single, adult male migrants whose arrival has prompted the mayor to declare a state of emergency.
Months after Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and other southern border officials started busing thousands of migrants to New York, the 84,400-square-foot tent facility in Randall’s Island is the city’s latest response to what Mayor Eric Adams has called a humanitarian crisis.
The location of the winterized complex, which will initially accommodate 500 single men, has drawn criticism from some city council members as well as advocates, who have raised concerns about accessibility to the site and extreme cold in the winter months. Families who arrive with children are housed in the Row Hotel in midtown Manhattan.
The tent camp’s opening comes just over a week after Adams declared a state of emergency and warned the wave of new arrivals was overwhelming homeless shelters, straining resources and could cost the city $1 billion.
The Randall’s Island Humanitarian Emergency Response and Relief Center spans more than 6.4 acres and cost $325,000 to set up, according to New York City Emergency Management Commissioner Zach Iscol. Costs related to operations are still being calculated, he said. The shelter can be expanded to serve 1,000 men.
The center has an intake operation, a recreation room with games and televisions, a kitchen and food hall, bathrooms and showers, laundry services, and sleeping quarters. And it will have security, Iscol said.
For months, city officials, with the help of non-profits, had been receiving asylum seekers in a sectioned-off area of Manhattan’s Port Authority Bus Terminal, where they received medical attention and rapid Covid-19 tests, food, clothing, prepaid phones, toiletries, legal assistance and transportation to temporary shelter.
City officials reviewed 80 to 90 potential locations before settling on Randall’s Island.
“There are not a lot of places where you could put this infrastructure and do this kind of work,” Iscol said.
The tent structure is designed to withstand 90 mph winds and is heated at 70 degrees.
“These are shelters that could keep people warm in the winter and cool in the summer,” Iscol said.
Asylum seekers will be greeted with food, a medical exam and meet with staff. People will be tested for Covid-19 and if they test positive, they will be taken to isolation trailers outside of the main facility, said Dr. Ted Long, senior vice president for ambulatory care and population health at New York City Health + Hospitals.
The recreation room includes six big-screen televisions, video gaming systems, phones for international calls, charging stations and free Wi-Fi.
The food hall seats about 500 people, and offers three meals a day as well as snacks, water, coffee and tea. The kitchen, designed to cook for 1,000 people, will serve South American food, according to Iscol.
The dormitory is made up of two tents, each with a capacity of 449 cots. Laundry services are available as well.
Transportation from Randall’s Island to Manhattan is still in the works, Long said. Officials hope to offer buses between the two locations once an hour, he said.
City officials said Tuesday there will be no limit on how long asylum seekers will be allowed to stay. While the goal is to get migrants to their next destination in about 96 hours, officials said there will be no limit on their stays.
“We’re going to take as much time as we need to get you where you want to go,” Long said. “If it takes longer than that, then that’s fine. If it takes less time than that, that’s also fine.”
The city will work with asylum seekers who do not have family in the US to figure out the next steps, New York City Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services Anne Williams-Isom said.
Long said 90% of the staff, including greeters and intake and resettlement workers, are bilingual.
As of Saturday, more than 19,400 asylum seekers had entered the city’s shelter system in recent months. Last week, officials told CNN more than 14,100 remained in shelters.
The most recent arrivals are asylum seekers from Venezuela.
Kathryn Kliff, a staff attorney with the Legal Aid Society’s Homeless Rights Project, said the organization will monitor the shelter operation to make sure it complies with city right-to-shelter requirements. New York City is legally required to provide shelter to anyone who requests it.