Isaac, a 21-year-old from Venezuela, had been staying at the Watson Hotel in Hell’s Kitchen in an emergency shelter for asylum-seekers for about a month and a half — until Sunday. That’s when the hotel management handed him a slip of paper saying he would have to leave that night.
At around 11 p.m. Sunday, Isaac said, he and other hotel residents were escorted to an MTA bus, and informed it would take them to a new place to stay. That place turned out to be the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal in Red Hook, Brooklyn — where Mayor Eric Adams had announced his administration would be providing shelter to migrants, with men from the Watson Hotel the first to arrive.
But then he saw the hangar-like cruise facility — and turned right around, taking the subway all the way back to the Watson Hotel.
It wasn’t the first transfer that Isaac experienced. Last year, he had been placed in the city’s controversial Randall’s Island shelter, which the Adams administration shut down in November, when migrants in numbers lower than expected actually stayed at the site. Many of the migrants initially housed there were moved to the Watson.
Isaac, who asked THE CITY not to use his last name, spent Sunday night outside the hotel, and Monday morning he was among the dozens of migrants, all single men, standing on the sidewalk or sitting in makeshift tents, as he contemplated what to do next.
Isaac is part of a WhatsApp group with other migrants, some who decided to spend a night at the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal shelter. In that chat group, he saw that other asylum seekers said they had to sleep on cots that lacked sheets and that they did not have safe spaces to store their luggage. Some said they had already had possessions stolen.
But Isaac had another motive to head back to Manhattan before dawn Monday morning: he has a job, unlike many migrants who have struggled to find work — especially with winter slowing work at construction sites. Isaac is a cleaner at an Upper West Side school from 4 to 10 p.m. during the week. If he was still staying at the Watson on West 57th Street, his work commute would remain a 10-minute subway ride.
But from Red Hook, he said, it will be inaccessible. Even the walk to the F train takes nearly half an hour.
“I don’t want to move just to start all over again,” he said in Spanish. “But I can’t spend another night here.”
As the men gathered at the Watson to figure out their next move, mutual aid volunteers set up tables with food, clothing donations and other resources. The men spoke about their precarious situation — not just in New York but also the turmoil they’d fled in Venezuela, which drove them to look for better opportunities and safety in the United States.
Mayoral press secretary Fabien Levy said in a statement that the city continues to need federal and state resources to handle the migrant crisis, with more than 43,000 migrants arriving in the city since last spring.
“The facilities at Brooklyn Cruise Terminal will provide the same services as every other humanitarian relief center in the city, and the scheduled relocations to Brooklyn Cruise Terminal this weekend took place as planned,” the statement reads. “We remain in serious need of support from both our state and federal governments.”
The Watson Hotel is now slated to house other migrants: families with children.
The Brooklyn Terminal shelter follows two other similar sites for single men that the city set up in response to the influx of migrants, then abandoned.
One of those was in the Orchard Beach parking lot in the Bronx, but the site never opened due to concern that it was located in a flood-prone area. The city then opened another barracks-style shelter on Randall’s Island with a capacity for 1,000 people, which opened in mid-October but closed about a month later.
City Councilmember Alexa Avilés released a joint statement with Assemblymember Marcela Mitaynes and State Senator Andrew Gounardes — all Democrats whose districts include Red Hook — questioning why the mayor’s office pushed back a tour of the terminal site for elected officials if it was already hospitable for people. They called on the city to consider other available solutions, including permanent locations.
Avilés told THE CITY that she’s not surprised migrants were dismayed by the terminal, given that they would be going from a living situation with significantly more privacy to the hangar-like facility where the cots are wall to wall. She said the Adams administration should exhaust all brick-and-mortar options before turning to makeshift locations.
“I think this site has many of the issues that we’ve contended with at the Orchard Beach site, the Randall’s Island site,” she said. “The location is really challenging. Red Hook is a transportation desert.”
Caitlin Baucom, a volunteer from the mutual aid group Gym Collective, said she went to the Watson Hotel on Sunday night, where migrants were refusing to board the buses headed to the Brooklyn Terminal. Those who had gone and then returned to the hotel urged others not to go.
“Let’s keep in mind that these are people who have faced and traveled through unimaginable conditions,” Baucom said. “They get here to this country, and then go to the Red Hook terminal and said that it was so terrible that they walked back and were encouraging other people not to go.”
‘El Timbo al Tambo’
Armando Carima stood outside the hotel, leaning against the scaffolding rails. He learned on Sunday that he would have to leave the hotel on Tuesday. Carima found a notification under his door when he returned to his room after searching for work.
He said he had been at the Watson Hotel for about a month and a half. He was informed by a city representative that he would get to stay at the Watson for up to a year, having gone through two city shelters before.
In Spanish, Carima said the city has the migrants at “el timbo al tambo,” which roughly translates to getting sent to and fro.
He said that if he has to go to the Brooklyn site, he’ll go, adding that he came to the country to work and not to take advantage of the system. But he said getting moved around from site to site is destabilizing. So far he’s had little success finding work during the two months he’s been in the city.
“They have us over here, they have us over there. They never leave us on one site,” he said in Spanish. “How do you move around to find work if you don’t have a place to live?”