Amidst the city scrambling to find space to house an influx of asylum seekers and increasing homeless in New York City, one former Ozone Park shelter has been reactivated to meet the demand.
“The need for space has a direct correlation to New York being a sanctuary city,” Councilwoman Joann Ariola (R-Ozone Park) told the Chronicle.
She learned last week from the community board that the Travelodge on Redding Street would be converted back into a shelter.
That location and the adjacent Ozone Inn & Suites were previously used to shelter homeless families but were phased out by the city in the fall of 2021. Now, the one location will be used to house up to 75 families. So far, approximately 60 families had already moved in.
On Monday, the Mayor’s Office announced an emergency procurement declaration that allows the city to contract quickly with shelters and service providers.
“Over the past two months, we have seen a significant increase in the number of asylum seekers arriving in our city’s shelter system,” Mayor Adams said in a statement.
“To fulfill our city’s legal and moral mandate to provide quality shelter to anyone experiencing homelessness, and to ensure we are providing appropriate services to asylum seekers, we are immediately issuing an emergency procurement declaration to rapidly procure additional shelter and services to serve these individuals and families.”
According to officials, approximately 4,000 asylum seekers have entered the city shelter system since late May, largely contributing to the 10 percent increase in the city Department of Homeless Services’ census.
More than 100 additional asylum seekers are seeking housing each day, the Mayor’s Office stated in a press release.
As of May, there were nearly 50,000 homeless people, including over 15,000 children, living in the city’s shelter system, according to the Coalition for the Homeless.
The city is in talks with the federal government to seek reimbursements for the emergency costs.
Ariola said there will be bi-weekly meetings at the Travelodge with her office, Community Board 10, the NYPD and the DHS.
“I’m concerned about how the families are being treated and I’m concerned about any type of negative impact that could have on the surrounding community,” said Ariola.
“If I remain in constant contact and hold the Travelodge accountable and make sure they’re transparent, then for the amount of time it remains activated — which right now is unknown — I think that it will have less of a negative impact on the community .”
One thing she is looking to find out is how many kids might be entering local schools so that proper funding can be allocated.
The Ozone Park Residents Block Association is also keeping tabs on the situation, said President Sam Esposito, and he agrees that it is “all about the kids.”
Cooking is not permitted on the site and he is interested in having the block association donate food and other things for the kids there.
The OZPKRBA has also been in contact with the shelter operators, Esposito said. “We told them, we’re here to help … we have to do our fair share.”
Earlier in July, the city was criticized for its treatment of families in shelters and it acknowledged violating the right-to-shelter law when families were left to sleep overnight in an intake center.
The city provides shelter to anyone in need regardless of immigration status, which it does not track on intake forms. Therefore, it says, estimates of those who are seeking asylum are conservative. One source close to the matter confirmed that all but two of the families at the Travelodge fit into that category.
The DHS did not respond to any inquiries about the Ozone Park location.
“No matter what the population is, I will make sure that I am involved completely to make sure that the community is not negatively impacted,” said Ariola, “and that [the families] are taken care of.”