BY KASEY NOSS | In late May, the city established a respite center for asylum seekers at the former St. Brigid School, located at the corner of Avenue B and Seventh Street. It is one of several such centers that have quietly opened across the city as officials struggle to find permanent housing for the hundreds of migrants arriving daily.
Mayor Adams has called upon federal officials, as well as local businesses, for help in housing the influx of asylum seekers the city has seen since the expiration of Title 42. The pandemic-era policy allowed the government to deny migrants entry at the U.S.-Mexico border based on a potential threat to public health.
In the East Village, residents were quick to respond despite the center’s low-profile opening, organizing clothing drives, meal distributions and even donating a coffee maker to the undersupplied site. However, they were surprised by what they called a lack of transparency and reluctance to cooperate originally demonstrated by the city officials present.
Stacie Joy of East Village news blog EV Grieve has provided detailed coverage of the saga, having organized many of the donations herself. In one instance, she reported city officials waved off a meal distribution led by local food nonprofit EVLovesNYC, in spite of the fact that the city’s planned meals never arrived that day. Another time, Verizon and NYCMesh were repeatedly prevented from installing much-needed free Wi-Fi at the center, with city officials citing a lack of “proper procedure,” though offering few specifics as to what that entailed. Even the coffee maker reportedly was confusingly deemed a “liability” at first, though it was put to use soon after.
Assemblymember Harvey Epstein, whose district office is located directly across the street from the respite center and became a temporary home base for clothing distribution, was inexplicably barred from performing a scheduled tour of the center. Epstein claims that after having initially been denied entry by a city official, he accompanied a community member who was helping with food distribution inside the facility. The politician claims he was then forcibly removed upon entering, an allegation supported by Joy’s coverage of the event.
“They said I forced my way into the facility, and they claimed that I was being hostile,” Epstein said. “And the reality was that, you know, I had reached out to the Mayor’s Office to go see the site, and it was my responsibility to make sure that people who are in our care, in our custody, in my district, that they are being treated well.”
According to Epstein, City Hall claims the altercation unfolded differently. He was finally able to successfully tour the facility one week later. The Mayor’s Office declined to comment for this article.
Since those initial weeks, relations between city officials and community members at the respite center have become significantly less fraught. Under Joy’s leadership, local volunteers successfully staged four distributions this month, supplying asylum seekers with clothing, bedding, toiletries, cell phones, shoes and more. Although briefly jeopardized by another bureaucratic hiccup, volunteers with NYC Mesh successfully installed Wi-Fi at the facility.
Joy herself declined to comment for this article, and several volunteers were hesitant to speak on the record, although the reason why remains unclear.
Sts. Brigid & Emeric Roman Catholic Church did not respond to The Village Sun’s request for comment.
Over all, Assemblymember Epstein describes the community’s efforts as “really successful.”
“We’ve given out hundreds of bags of clothing to people, and backpacks and shoes and socks,” he said. “People seemed really happy to get it. In the end, I think it was all very, very positive.”
For those who want to help, St. Brigid’s rectory, at 119 Avenue B, is accepting donations Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Items most in demand include adult clothing, blankets and bedding, backpacks and shoes, particularly chancletas (flip-flops). A variety of sizes are welcome, although it should be noted that there are no children or infants at this center.
Local organizers are also seeking volunteers. The ability to speak Spanish or French is a plus.