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NYC's Mayor Eric Adams proposes suspending shelter right amid migrant crisis


The arrival of tens of thousands of migrants has brought New York City's resources to the brink. The city's largest intake center for asylum-seekers is filled to capacity and people are being forced to sleep on the sidewalk, sometimes for days at a time, as they wait to be processed. Mayor Eric Adams says such scenes will be more common if the issue isn't addressed.


ERIC ADAMS: We need help, and it's not going to get any better. From this moment on, it's downhill. There is no more room.

MARTÍNEZ: So Adams has asked a judge to suspend a decades-old court-imposed order requiring the city to provide shelter to anyone who asks for it. Joshua Goldfein is a staff attorney with the Legal Aid Society, a nonprofit that helped pave the way for New York's right to shelter law.

JOSHUA GOLDFEIN: We have been meeting with the city for as long as they identified that this was a problem, and trying to collaboratively solve the problem by proposing changes that they could make to existing city programs that would make it easier for them to move people out of shelter. We've been discussing, what are the standards that are required to offer to people to make sure that they are safe? And what changes to the law might be required in order to make that happen?

For instance, the original consent decree has requirements about how far apart beds are spaced, how many bathrooms and showers there have to be, that people need lockable storage. So in an emergency situation, if people have just arrived, then it seems like it would be possible to have a different arrangement of those conditions to meet the need of those people on an immediate basis.

MARTÍNEZ: Mayor Adams has been putting the Biden administration on blast to help out with this migrant crisis in New York. What can the Biden administration do?

GOLDFEIN: The Biden administration could solve this overnight by letting people have work authorization. And that's really what people want. If the federal government would allow them to work, they would move out of shelter, you know, within days. And they would travel to other parts of the country. They would be filling the labor shortages that we see in so many communities around the United States.

MARTÍNEZ: Does the state have the authority to authorize temporary work permits?

GOLDFEIN: There isn't an argument that the state has the ability to facilitate people working. And let's be clear - everybody who's here is working whenever they can, and sometimes that means off the books. So there are a lot of people who are already working, but they're working in situations that leave them extremely vulnerable to exploitation. And they're unable to earn a living wage because they have to take whatever money they can get. So the state certainly has the ability to facilitate people having access to the tools they need to support themselves. Many people have told us they just need a driver's license, and then they're going to move on. If the city and the state would invest in solutions like that for people, they would take care of themselves.

MARTÍNEZ: What should Eric Adams be doing differently?

GOLDFEIN: The city has a number of tools available to it to move people out of shelter, to create space in the shelter system that are being underutilized. There is a staffing shortage crisis in every city agency in New York City. And as a result, most city agencies can't perform their basic functions in the way that they're supposed to. One example of that would just be that there are many people in shelter who are already connected to apartments, permanent housing that they could move into tomorrow if a city agency would just write checks to their landlord so that they could get the keys.

MARTÍNEZ: Joshua Goldfein is a staff attorney with the Legal Aid Society. Joshua, thanks.

GOLDFEIN: Thank you.

MARTÍNEZ: We reached out to the mayor's office for comment. And a spokesperson for city hall told us in a statement, quote, while "our compassion is limitless, our resources are not." In a statement, the city also encouraged migrants to take placements outside of New York whenever available, as facilitated by the city. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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