Photo: Mary Cunningham. A press conference to support migrants being bused to New York City took place on E. 140th Street on Saturday.

Caught in broken shelter system, migrants rely on mutual aid groups

A group of Peruvian and Venezuelan migrants say their journey to the United States was treacherous – but New York City’s housing system has presented its own scary moments because of abuse and disarray.

A mixture of mutual aid groups in the South Bronx organized a news conference Friday to air the migrants’ experiences and confirm, from their work with the migrants, that the city’s response to the recent influx has been woefully lacking. 

 “We are all doing this together,” said Ariadna Phillips, a mutual aid organizer, of the mutual aid collectives. “Around the city, around the clock, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, because the government response is unacceptable.”

 According to an August statement from Mayor Eric Adams, approximately 6,000 asylum seekers have arrived in New York City in the last few months. Some of these migrants were bused directly to New York City by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott.

 The first sticking point for migrants arriving in New York City is knowing where to go, the new arrivals said. With few clear directives and no interpreters, they were surprised that they were expected to find their own way.

Samuel, currently staying at a shelter on Bedford Avenue in Brooklyn, said when he arrived at the Port Authority, there was no one to take him to a shelter. “All I had was the address on my phone of a shelter that immigration had given me.” 

When he got to the address, he discovered it was a church, not a shelter. The church gave him a list of other places to call and wished him good luck. Since then, he reported, he has been shuffled from shelter to shelter, oftentimes with little warning or explanation.

“It’s a lie saying the shelters are taking care of us,” he said.

When migrants finally do settle into a shelter, other obstacles abound. They face exposure to drug use and drug trafficking, lack of translation services, inadequate food, or in some cases, no food at all, they said. 

“Not having food, not having a safe place to be is all inhumane,” said Yajaira Saavedra, an immigrant activist and co-owner of Mexican restaurant La Morada on Willis Avenue in Mott Haven.

Veronica, a pregnant woman from Venezuela, said she faced barriers to medical care while she was at one of the shelters. She cited extremely hot conditions, and said she received no food or transportation. She ended up having to go to the emergency room several times. 

“I didn’t get any assistance from them at all,” she said of the shelter. “It’s a person from mutual aid that has been taking me to the hospital.”

In the midst of this migrant influx, New York City’s Office of Immigrant Affairs said on Twitter that it was awarding almost $7 million to nonprofit organizations. But according to mutual aid groups, they have not seen a penny of this promised funding. The resounding cry from migrants and advocates in the room was, “Where is the money?”

With insufficient government support, churches, individuals, and mutual aid groups like South Bronx Mutual Aid are stepping up – donating time, food, money, and care. They are the ones filling in the gaps between the loose patchwork of shelters, according to Saavedra. 

Phillips emphasized the crucial role the crowdfunded groups have played in the last month – intercepting people arriving in the city, helping them find shetler, getting them access to medical care and more. 

“We know their medical needs, we know their children’s names, we know where they came from, we know what their experience has been here…” said Phillips.

Both Phillips and Saavedra are calling for an investigation into Mayor Eric Adams’ administration and into what has happened to the promised funds for assisting migrants.

 

 

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