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NYC ‘respite centers’ now house some 2,500 migrants, often for days, despite short-term promise

New York City’s so-called migrant respite centers are now housing more than 2,000 asylum seekers — and most of them have stayed at the sites for days despite promises from Mayor Adams’ office that the facilities would only be used for short-term accommodations, the Daily News has learned.

The city’s newest respite center runs out of the Lincoln Correctional Facility, a shuttered state prison in Harlem that opened Thursday night to adult migrant males, according to Christina Farrell, the first deputy commissioner of the city’s Emergency Management agency. The city’s also getting close to launching a respite with capacity for 500 migrants in a warehouse at JFK Airport, said Farrell, whose agency runs the sites.

Farrell, who spoke on a private Friday migrant crisis briefing with city and state lawmakers, said Lincoln is among eight respite sites currently operating in the city, housing a total of “about 2,500 people,” all adult asylum seekers.

“The aim for a migrant stay [at a respite center] is a few days,” Farrell said on the call, a recording of which was obtained by The News.

Farrell’s confirmation of days-long stays at the respite centers contrasts the Adams administration’s previous characterizations of the sites.

Fabien Levy, Adams’ press secretary, has previously said the centers are meant as “holding places” and “waiting rooms” where migrants should only be “short-term” until the city finds room for them in traditional shelters or emergency hotels.

Asked about Farrell’s briefing comments, Levy insisted they’re consistent with what he has previously said. “It’s a waiting room for as long as it takes,” he said of the centers.

The former Lincoln Correction Facility on W. 110th St. in Manhattan,

Prior to Friday’s briefing, The News and other outlets have reported on migrants being housed for over a week at respite centers without access to showers or other basic amenities, raising concerns from advocates about compliance with the city’s right-to-shelter rules. Beyond Lincoln, the city’s respite sites are being run out of a shuttered public school on Staten Island, an old Midtown Manhattan office building and a church in Queens, among other locations.

Josh Goldfein, an attorney with the Legal Aid Society, was encouraged by Farrell’s breakdown of how many respite centers there are and how many migrants stay in them — data-points he said the city has previously declined to disclose.

But Goldfein said he remains concerned about the city’s reliance on respite centers.

“It’s particularly troubling that people are there for a long time because the sites are not designed for long-term living, and in many instances, these are very vulnerable people that they are housing there,” he said.

Mayor Eric Adams

Of the JFK respite site, Farrell confirmed on the briefing a report from the news outlet The City that the administration has already set up 500 cots in a warehouse at the airport with the intention of soon housing migrants there.

“We are waiting for FAA consent,” Farrell said, referring to the Federal Aviation Administration, which has to sign off on a request from Gov. Hochul’s administration to turn the warehouse into migrant housing.

The city’s homeless shelter and emergency hotel systems remain at capacity, housing nearly 100,000 people, about 45,000 of whom are migrants, according to data from Adams’ office.

Most of the migrants are from Latin America and fled economic collapse, violence and poverty in their home countries in hopes of seeking asylum in the U.S.

Migrants arriving from Mission and McAllen, TX, are greeted by volunteers at the Port Authority Bus Terminal early Wednesday.

Word of the administration’s continued expansion of the respite system comes on the heels of lawyers for Adams filing papers in court last month asking a judge to authorize the suspension of the city’s right-to-shelter mandate.

Conditions at many of the respite sites are believed to not comply with right-to-shelter, which requires the city to provide a bed to anyone who needs it as well as certain basic amenities, like showers, lockers and laundry access.

Adams’ lawyers argued in their court papers the administration should be permitted to disregard right-to-shelter rules given the severity of the migrant crisis, which has already cost the city more than $1 billion.

Goldfein, whose group is challenging Adams’ push for rolling back right-to-shelter in court, has together with other homeless advocates and elected Democrats urged the administration to focus more energy on getting New Yorkers out of shelter instead of opening respites.

“We continue to urge them to use the resources they have to move people out of shelters,” Goldfein said. “By putting more work into helping people move on, we can free up more space for asylum seekers.”

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