Home / News / NYC considering Rikers Island, tents, tiny houses and refurbished shipping containers to house asylum seekers

NYC considering Rikers Island, tents, tiny houses and refurbished shipping containers to house asylum seekers

Apr 28, 2023Apr 28, 2023

By Marcia Kramer, Lisa Rozner

Updated on: May 17, 2023 / 11:40 PM / CBS New York

NEW YORK -- The city will no longer house asylum seekers at a school gym in Coney Island, but Mayor Eric Adams says he's considering 400 other locations, including Rikers Island.

The gym of P.S. 188 is back to being just that, a gym for school activities.

Sunday, the city turned it into a temporary shelter for asylum seekers.

Councilman Ari Kagan says the Office of Emergency Management commissioner told him Wednesday they were being relocated.

"I ask, does it mean that this school gym will be used by the next group of migrants? ... He said, we're planning to shut it down completely, but in the future, as we always say, all options are on the table," Kagan said.

The mayor's office denies the move was prompted by parent protests.

A spokesperson for the mayor sent CBS2 the following statement:

"Our plan has always been to have emergency respite sites only serve migrants for a very short period of time and only when the influx into our city is overwhelming. Migrants flow in and out of these sites as other more suitable space becomes available, and they have and will continue to be used as a last resort. As the mayor has continued to say, everything is on the table when it comes to placement of asylum seekers, and, sadly, every city service will be affected."

Brooklyn Councilman Justin Brannan believes this is a good sign for the schools preparing to house asylum seekers.

"I was glad that the mayor had worked to find an alternate site," Brannan said.

That site is a former Touro College building on 31st Street near Eighth Avenue in Manhattan. Wednesday night, a line of men waited to get in.

In Spanish, one man told CBS2 he arrived Tuesday and is grateful for the opportunity to be in the United States.

"Traversing here was really heavy for us Venezuelans," he said. "One thing we don't have there is where to shower, but we do have food, a dignified place to sleep, thanks to God."

The mayor shook hands and posed for pictures in Harlem on Wednesday after yet another press conference where he sounded the alarm about the influx of asylum seekers and the need to consider all housing options -- even Rikers Island.

"We're going to look at everything," Adams said.

When CBS2 caught up with the mayor, he insisted his experience in dealing with crises like 9/11 and the pandemic would give him the ability to make the right decisions, whether it be using public school gyms or sending asylum seekers to suburban hotels.

"Listen, folks, easy, we got this. So I want New Yorkers to know I'm made for this moment. I'm the mayor that this moment calls for and we're going to navigate through this," Adams said.

That doesn't mean the mayor is worry free. A big concern is lost tourism dollars because about 50% of the city's hotel rooms are being used for asylum seekers.

"So instead of money's coming from people who are visiting us and spending in our tourism and our Broadway plays, instead of them using those hotels, we're using those hotels," Adams said.

It's a boatload of money. In 2021, tourists spent $52 billion in New York, generating $7.5 billion in state and local tax revenue.

And with 600 to 700 asylum seekers now arriving every day, the city is looking at more than 400 other locations and considering tents, tiny houses, and even refurbished shipping containers.

Deputy Mayor Anne Williams-Isom has been pleading with other state officials to help New York City.

"We're looking at every single county. New York City is in the middle of New York State and so we're looking at every single county in New York State," Williams-Isom said.

Meanwhile, Schools Chancellor David Banks defended the mayor's decision to use public school gyms as shelters, despite parental protests amid safety concerns. Some are keeping their kids home.

Marcia Kramer joined CBS2 in 1990 as an investigative and political reporter. Prior to CBS2, she was the City Hall bureau chief at the New York Daily News.

First published on May 17, 2023 / 6:16 PM

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NEW YORK Read more: As NYC looks to shelter asylum seekers in school gyms, Chancellor David Banks says city is doing all it can: "This is a crisis" Read more: Mayor Eric Adams says as many as 20 public school gyms may be needed to house asylum seekers