Migrants Victor Arana, left, Jose Leal and Argenes Cedeño outside the shelter, in the storm. Gwynne Hogan/THE CITY
By Gwynne Hogan | Sept. 29, 2023
At the Jefferson Street shelter, migrants were left to face the deluge while carrying what possessions they could, before the city eventually reversed course.
While New Yorkers were cautioned to stay home and avoid travel during Friday’s pummeling rainstorm, migrants at a Brooklyn shelter were unceremoniously shown the door — with some forced to trudge across Bushwick with all their worldly belongings.
“Despite everything they kicked us out,” said 30-year-old Victor Arana, in Spanish, while lugging a suitcase and two bags wrapped in plastic down Wyckoff Avenue towards the M train. “It doesn’t matter to them if we’re OK or not.”
The men had to leave the Jefferson Street shelter, a converted commercial building, as part of a new city policy aimed at reducing the time migrants without children can spend in shelters. Migrants who don’t have a place to stay within 60 days have been instructed to return to the Roosevelt Hotel in Midtown, the city’s main intake center for arriving migrants, to seek a cot in another facility. Those who receive another shelter bed, and newly arrived migrants, are now given just 30 days to stay there.
Several hundred men had left shelters since the new policy kicked in since last Saturday, THE CITY reported, but even as a storm that Gov. Kathy Hohcul called “a life-threatening rainfall event” bore down on the five boroughs, the new eviction policy continued through some of the morning.
“They told me I had to get up and get out,” said Argenes Cedeño, a 19-year-old from Ecuador, who was also walking in the rain to the M train. His 60-day notice didn’t expire until Saturday, he said, but staff at the shelter had told him he had to depart a day early.
“I left because I didn’t want to cause trouble,” he said in Spanish.
“I can’t stay there crying or asking for something. I’m not like that,” he said. “I came here to move ahead.”
City officials disputed Cedeño’s claim that he was told to leave on Friday.
Local City Councilmember Jennfier Gutiérrez had urged the Adams administration Friday morning, before the mayor had declared his belated state of emergency, to delay the ongoing evictions at the Jefferson Street site given the conditions.
By then, a group of men had already left to huddle under the cover of the Jefferson Street L train stop, waiting for the heaviest squalls to pass, even as the L train was suspended through much of the morning. Others set off across Bushwick on foot to the M train about a mile away, to make their way to the Roosevelt Hotel to seek another shelter bed.
HPD spokesperson William Fowler told THE CITY late Friday afternoon buses had been dispatched to take anyone at the train station or still at the shelter to the Roosevelt Hotel. Men weren’t allowed to return once they’d been discharged, he said, because newly arriving immigrants were already on their way to take those cots.
“In the days leading up, we’ve worked diligently to prepare everyone for this day and worked to ensure everyone had a plan in place,” Fowler said.
“Many guests left the site on their own accord yesterday and early this morning, but as we monitored the weather we stopped all further exits and informed those still inside that they would be allowed to stay for one additional night and organized transportation so that anyone who had already left could have a safe ride to the arrival center,” he added.
‘If You Are Home, Stay Home’
City and state officials both issued states of emergency on Friday, after the hard rain had already started falling. By then, cars were trapped on major highways across the city, emergency workers rushed to rescue stranded motorists, and subway service came to a grinding halt.
“If you are home, stay home. If you are at work or school shelter in place for now. Some of our subways are flooded,” cautioned Mayor Eric Adams at a press conference, hours after the school day had started. “It’s extremely difficult to move around the city.”
Despite the mayor’s words, migrant men said they’d received firm directives from shelter staff to get out. José Tobar, 30, a Venezuelan migrant, said people staying at the shelter had pleaded with staff to stay one more night.
‘Let us wait till the rain passes and then we’ll go. Give us until the morning,’” he said, in Spanish. “But no, they kicked us out and look how we are now. We were here for two months, why not one more night?”
A reporter for THE CITY asked Housing Preservation and Development, which oversees the Jefferson Street site, on Friday morning if the men would be able to stay while flooding was ongoing. Late that morning, Illana Maier, a spokesperson for HPD, said the men would get a reprieve.
“They are allowed to stay,” she said.
But the directive did not seem to trickle down to staff at the site, as a small group of men who’d remained huddled under a nearby overhang waited to see if they’d be let back in.
An employee at the site, who declined to give her full name, said they had stopped discharges at around 10:30 a.m., but anyone who had already been formally discharged wouldn’t be let back in
“They can go to the arrival center,” she said of the men waiting outside the shelter in the storm.
By around 12:30 p.m., the shelter employees relented and allowed some of the remaining men outside to return indoors, said Jolfrank Hernandez, 31, from Venezuela.
“We ask them, to look in their hearts, that they have a little humanity,” Hernandez said, in Spanish. “We’re human beings, like anyone else, and if we can’t stay here, we’ll be in the street.”
This story was published by THE CITY on September 29, 2023