NYC Looking to Use More Than a Half Dozen Public Schools as Migrant Housing

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Mayor Adams is opening the door to housing migrants in more than a half dozen public schools amid overcrowding in the city’s shelter systems, prompting pushback from parents and community leaders who fear the accommodations could disrupt classes and traumatize the asylum seekers, the Daily News has learned.

As of Monday, Adams’ administration was either housing or planning to house migrants in the gymnasiums of PS 188, PS 189, PS 172, PS 17, PS 18, PS 132 and MS 577 — all of which are in Brooklyn, according to local elected officials, Community Education Council members and correspondences reviewed by The News. All of the gyms are freestanding from their respective school buildings.

The Richard H. Hungerford School on Staten Island, which was permanently shuttered during the pandemic, is also being repurposed as an emergency migrant housing facility, State Assemblyman Sam Pirozzolo wrote on Twitter over the weekend.

Gym at Public School 188 in Brooklyn.
Gym at Public School 188 in Brooklyn. (Josephine Stratman/New York Daily News)

Danielle Rogers, who has lived across the street from PS 188 for seven years, said she’s concerned about how the migrant housing will impact programming at the Coney Island school.

“How would you feel if you were living here and you got these random people moving into a school that’s active that your grandkids go to?” said Rogers, 42.

The focus on turning school gyms into emergency shelters comes after Camille Varlack, Adams’ chief of staff, issued a memo on May 7 directing all city agencies to identify spaces that could be retrofitted into migrant housing.

Varlack’s memo was distributed in advance of the May 11 expiration of Title 42, a federal border enforcement policy that allowed authorities to quickly expel many migrants crossing into the U.S. from Mexico.

Adams for weeks warned that the expiration of Title 42 would likely result in the city’s migrant influx accelerating. So far, there has not been an indication that the pace has picked up significantly since the policy’s lapse.

Immigrants leave the Port Authority Bus Terminal on 8th Ave. for a city run processing center on a MTA bus Saturday, May, 13, 2023  in Manhattan, New York.
Immigrants leave the Port Authority Bus Terminal on 8th Ave. for a city run processing center on a MTA bus Saturday, May, 13, 2023 in Manhattan, New York. (Barry Williams/for New York Daily News)

For the second day in a row, Adams had no public appearances planned Monday. A spokeswoman for his office declined to provide a full list of public schools set to house migrants, but said “nothing is off the table as we work to fill our moral mandate.”

“We should all expect this crisis to affect every city service,” the spokeswoman said. “We will continue to communicate with local elected officials as we open more emergency sites.”

Brooklyn Councilman Justin Brannan, a Democrat who is running to represent a district that includes PS 188 in this year’s elections, disputed the notion that the administration has been keeping him and other local stakeholders in the loop.

“Unclear how long they will need to stay,” he tweeted late Sunday of the migrants at PS 188. “This location remains puzzling to me.”

When news first broke late last week that PS 188 would be used to house migrants, an Adams administration official maintained the setup would not impact programming at the school.

Erika Kendall, president of the Community Education Council for District 17, which includes Crown Heights, East Flatbush and Prospect Heights, disputed the idea that all the schools’ programming would continue as usual while housing migrants.

“I’ve not spoken to a single parent that felt like these people were undeserving of some sort of space or shelter. But what people are concerned about is the disruption to their children’s education, that their children cannot move freely in their own school, and what this means to have people sleeping overnight in school buildings,” said Kendall, whose Community Education Council district includes PS 189.

The school, located on the corner of East New York and Buffalo avenues in Crown Heights, received notice over the weekend that its gymnasium will be transformed into a migrant housing site, Kendall said.

Samantha Orme, mother of a student at PS 132 in Williamsburg, said her kid is already being affected by her school’s gym becoming a migrant housing site.

“They didn’t have recess outside today, which sucks,” Orme, 43, said.

But the mom said she understands that the migrants “have to go somewhere” and that she’d “rather have them in a school than sleeping underneath the BQE.”

The Adams administration has justified turning to school gyms by noting that there’s no more space in the city’s homeless shelters and emergency hotels, which are housing more than 40,000 asylum seekers at the moment, and hundreds more arrive in New York every day, most of them from Latin America. That’s in addition to the tens of thousands of homeless New Yorkers who sleep in the city shelter system every night.

Immigrants leave the Port Authority Bus Terminal on 8th Ave. for a city run processing center on a MTA bus Saturday, May, 13, 2023  in Manhattan, New York. (Barry Williams for New York Daily News)
Immigrants leave the Port Authority Bus Terminal on 8th Ave. for a city run processing center on a MTA bus Saturday, May, 13, 2023 in Manhattan, New York. (Barry Williams for New York Daily News) (Barry Williams/for New York Daily News)

Though she sympathized with the administration’s struggle to address the ballooning migrant crisis, Kendall said putting asylum seekers in schools is not the answer.

“They’re intending to use [school] buildings to house people — buildings that are not intended for housing,” she said. “It’s really inhumane.”

Over at PS 188, a handful of migrants were milling around in front of the school’s gym Monday afternoon.

Yonathan Lopez, a 26-year-old migrant from Venezuela, said he and his partner got beds Sunday in the gym, which has capacity to house 75 adult migrant families, according to sources families with the matter.

“It’s okay in there,” Lopez told The News in Spanish, adding that staff with the city’s Emergency Management office are providing free food on site, including pizza and sandwiches.

Mayor Eric Adams
Mayor Eric Adams (ED REED/Mayoral Photography Office)

In Community Education Council District 14, which covers Williamsburg and Greenpoint, four public schools — PS 17, PS 18, PS 132 and MS 577 — were informed over the weekend they’re expected to see their gyms transformed into migrant housing, said Jessamyn Lee. (PS 17 and MS 577 are co-located schools.)

Lee, a representative for Brooklyn’s education council presidents on the citywide Panel for Educational Policy, said she’s concerned about the way Adams’ administration has gone about notifying schools about the emergency housing plans.

“Nobody knows how long this is supposed to last, or the scope of it,” said Lee, whose child attends public school in District 14. “It’s kind of wild.”

PS 17, located near the Bedford Avenue L train stop, is supposed to be part of Summer Rising, a program that provides kids with recreational activities during the summer. It’s unclear how that initiative may be impacted by its gym becoming a migrant shelter. A flyer promoting a Keep Our Kids Safe rally Tuesday morning at PS 17 was circulating late in the day Monday.

PS 172, the other school whose gym has been picked as a likely migrant housing site, is in Sunset Park.

Adams administration officials have said the city only intends to house migrant adults in congregate settings like school gyms, as keeping kids in such settings would violate state rules established to prevent sexual violence against minors.

Still, the administration has housed multiple migrant families with kids in at least one congregate emergency facility, an old NYPD Police Academy gym on E. 20th St. in Manhattan, as first reported by The News last week.

Beyond programming, Lee said she’s concerned that the abrupt manner in which migrants have been moved into school gyms could fuel anti-migrant sentiment.

“We’re absolutely pitting communities against each other,” she said, “and I don’t know if it was intentional, but the immediate net result has been a racist dog whistle.”

Source: NY Daily News