City officials gave a tour of a family shelter on the Floyd Bennett Field national park, Oct. 30, 2023. Credit: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY
By Gwynne Hogan | December 28, 2023
Security guards at the cavernous migrant shelter for families with children at Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn confiscated toy scooters from children who were playing with their prized new possessions on Christmas Eve, according to videos and eyewitness accounts.
Several mothers who spoke with THE CITY described security guards taking mini scooters from three different children at around 9 p.m. on Christmas Eve, sparking anger and frustration among parents and fear among children. THE CITY is withholding the women’s names because they each said they feared retaliation from staff at the shelter.
A video circulating on WhatsApp groups shows the encounter, a female security guard walking away with scooters in hand, while a male guard speaks to a mother in English.
“We’re asking you to put your son back in the room cause he’s out here racing back and forth,” the male guard said.
The woman responds in Spanish, “It’s the 24th of December, why are you going to prevent the children from playing?”
The guards are seen wearing uniforms from Arrow Security, a company also known as Aron Security. THE CITY previously reported that Arrow is being sued by the city Department of Homeless Services in connection with assaults that occurred on the company’s watch in homeless shelters. The company, which has an $140 million contract to provide security at migrant shelters, didn’t return a request for comment from THE CITY.
Adam Shrier, a spokesperson for the city’s Health and Hospitals Corporation, which oversees the Floyd Bennett migrant shelter, said the guards acted appropriately since scooters are not allowed inside dormitory areas and that they had asked the children several times to stop using them before confiscating them. Residents aren’t allowed to use bikes or scooters there as a safety matter. He added that children could play inside of a recreation area in a separate tent, or use scooters outside.
After the guard confiscated the three scooters, a group of mothers went to call a supervisor, two witnesses said. When they returned, an 8-year-old boy from Venezuela was in tears. His 31-year-old mother told THE CITY the boy said the guard grabbed his arm and took his scooter while he was riding down the long, narrow hall of the huge tent, to get some water to drink from a fountain about 50 yards away.
Shrier denied that the scooter had been grabbed or yanked from the child and said the guard remained calm while guests leveled profanities and hostilities at him.
When the 31-year-old’s son’s scooter was returned about an hour later, it was broken, she said.
“He’s afraid of the guards,” she said of her son. “They broke the toy and he doesn’t want to be here anymore but we have no other option,” she said in Spanish.
The mother said the guards accused her and her husband of being drunk, which she denied, and they searched the couple’s room looking for alcohol.
She called the police, seeking help, the mother said, but when they arrived nothing happened, and staff warned the growing crowd of onlookers to get back into their rooms. An NYPD spokesperson said they had no record of the call, though there’s video of several officers arriving at the shelter.
One guard warned residents “we had two minutes to get into our rooms or she would call the police to take us to jail,” another mother, age 30, recounted in Spanish.
A video of a guard speaking on a bullhorn with several police officers on site warns residents to return to their rooms or the authorities will take action.
All told the night was another harrowing one for some children at Floyd Bennett, said a 38-year-old mother of three from Venezuela who also witnessed the commotion said in Spanish.
“The children wanted a little bit of happiness, what they got was problems,” she said.
Advocates seized on the encounter as another reason the Floyd Bennett facility wasn’t a suitable environment for children.
“If kids can’t play at Floyd Bennett Field they should not be sheltered at Floyd Bennett Field,” said Carrie Gleason, a parent at P.S. 315 in Midwood, where some of the children who live in the Floyd Bennett shelters are enrolled. Gleason and a group of other volunteers from the surrounding neighborhoods have been coordinating near-daily donations of clothes and supplies to the families there.
“These kids have experienced unimaginable trauma, and that night should have been a moment of relief and joy,” she said. “The guards took that away from them.”
The Christmas Eve gift confiscations are the latest issue to emerge at the remote tents for families, which opened in November and are now housing more than 1,700 parents and children across four dormitory tents.
Residents have struggled to get used to the cold. During a heavy wind storm in mid-December, parents and children were up all night long terrified the tents would collapse.
Then there are the day-to-day difficulties of living four miles away from the nearest neighborhood on a barren strip of airfield; the difficulty getting to and from school on time, or commuting to try to find work for parents. More recently, some neighbors in nearby Marine Park have been furious about families going door-to-door begging for change and clothing.
This story was published by THE CITY on December 28, 2023.