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Plans for a tent city on Randall’s Island draw familiar criticism

On Monday night, Mayor Eric Adams’ administration announced it would rotate a tent city planned to house migrants from Orchard Beach to Randall’s Island, citing a lower flood risk at the latter location. But this risk is not zero.

Photos taken on Tuesday of the parking lot around Icahn Stadium, where the emergency shelter is to be placed, show a buildup of rainwater, as well as a sign placed near the parking lot warning that the roads may be flooded.

“If the roads are flooded – and we’re seeing flooding inside the parking lot – I just don’t see how that’s going to be feasible,” said New York City Council member Diana Ayala, who represents Randall’s Island and shared the photos to the site on Tuesday, City & State said.

On Tuesday, housing advocates and immigrant advocacy groups also raised concerns about the Randall’s Island site. “Many of the concerns we and others have expressed about the original location of Orchard Beach also apply to Randall’s Island,” read a joint statement from the Legal Aid Society and the Coalition for the Homeless. “The city must look to alternatives instead of tent cities, where our customers will be isolated, vulnerable to extreme weather conditions and far from public transport and other essential services.”

Although she saw water pooling on Tuesday and signs warning of flood risk, Ayala said she hadn’t recently heard of flooding as a major issue in the area, and Assemblyman Eddie Gibbs, who also represents Randall’s Island, said the same. (Several people, however, referenced the chaotic evacuation of Governors Ball on the island in 2019 during heavy rain and thunder.)

The parking lots near Icahn Stadium on Randall’s Island are in a Zone 3 hurricane evacuation zone designation, compared to the planned site for Orchard Beach, which had a higher risk Zone 1 designation. Parts of the coast around Randall’s Island are designated as Zone 1. A City Hall spokesperson noted that they expected fewer pond issues at the Randall’s Island site and said that they would use 3 foot slopes, but did not elaborate further on what this means specifically for building tent installations. The town hall also said it was working on providing additional transport to and from Randall Island, which is mainly accessible by public transport via the M35 bus.

“This new location is less prone to flooding, is closer to public transportation and will provide temporary respite for 500 asylum seekers,” said the town hall statement late Monday announcing the pivot to Randall’s Island. City Hall spokespersons later clarified that there would be space to expand capacity beyond 500 people, as the originally planned site on Orchard Beach was to accommodate 1,000 people. On Tuesday, Gov. Kathy Hochul’s office announced it was activating the National Guard to help run the center on Randall’s Island.

At an unrelated press conference Tuesday, Adams said while the administration was confident in its ability to alleviate concerns about flooding in Orchard Beach, Randall’s Island was being touted as a better alternative due to its “higher peak raised”. “(It’s) a constant pivot and change to find a good solution to this humanitarian crisis that was created by human hands,” Adams said. “We made the decision to move to Randall’s Island. And that’s what we’ve done.

Gibbs told City & State on Tuesday that he supports the plan to house the tents on Randall’s Island. “Where else?” Gibbs said, adding that it’s important for the city to provide coats, blankets and ensure adequate heating in tents as cold weather approaches. “I really hope this works out,” Gibbs said. “It gives these people the opportunity to just beginning.”

Randall’s Island, located between northern Manhattan, the southern Bronx and western Queens, is more central than Orchard Beach, located in the heart of an urban park in the eastern Bronx. Because it’s not that far away and there are (although limited) accessibility to public transport, Ayala said Randall’s Island is a comparatively better site for setting up tents – which is intended for voluntary use for the influx of migrants into New York, for no more than 96 hours. – than Orchard Beach would have been. But she said brick-and-mortar alternatives would still be preferable to tents, especially as winter approaches. In addition to using vacant hotel space — a solution housing advocates have advocated not just for migrants but other homeless New Yorkers — Ayala has raised the possibility of using the Javits Center in Midtown Manhattan as emergency shelter space, while State Senator Jessica Ramos lifted the idea of ​​using vacant commercial office space.

Placing shelter was a difficult logistical situation, but it was also a political challenge. The town hall criticized politicians for being quick to criticize the placement of emergency rescue centers rather than cooperating. “The far right is doing the wrong thing. The far left is not doing anything,” Adams said at an independent news conference on Monday, possibly referring to Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who said she was looking for a “better solution” than the Orchard Beach tents in her district. “I don’t believe in the silence I hear. These are people who need services. And I don’t hear both ends of the spectrum. … (the administration) shouldn’t do it on our own.

Adams, who likes to portray himself as a solution-oriented centrist, was right that he’s also been criticized by New York’s far-right. Rep. Nicole Malliotakis and other Staten Island Republicans released a statement on Tuesday calling on Adams to drop plans to dock a cruise ship in the borough to house asylum seekers, arguing that the city should not be obliged to shelter immigrants. The city’s right to shelter doesn’t require U.S. citizenship, and Adams was careful to say everyone is welcome in the city — even while publicly lamenting the cost and lack of coordination from state and federal governments. .

New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams acknowledged that city officials must make tough decisions given the scale of the crisis affecting the city, but, he said, this fact should not replace the city’s responsibility to respect its right to shelter. law and provide the “most human responses” possible.

“We have to make sure that if we use the type of structures that are on offer now, it’s an absolute last measure, and we’ve exhausted things like some of the open spaces, armories and hotels,” Williams said. to reporters at an afternoon press conference. “None of this can be a circumvention of our right to shelter in the city.”

Jacquelyn Simone, policy director at the Coalition for the Homeless, said the solutions presented amid this humanitarian crisis shine a light on the city’s longer-term housing needs. “I think the larger question is why is the city spending resources building tents instead of building high-quality accommodation capacity in places like hotels?” said Simone. “And also why haven’t they made the necessary investments in permanent accommodation which could thus free up the existing accommodation capacity?”

John Smith

The author John Smith