More than 1,000 NYC shelter beds, hundreds of rooms empty as Mayor Adams moves to curb right-to-shelter

More than 1,000 beds and several hundred family units run by the Department of Homeless Services sat empty this week as Mayor Eric Adams began court proceedings to suspend the city’s 40-year-old right-to-shelter law due to a city “overextended” by newly arrived migrants.

According to data provided to Coalition for the Homeless by city officials and shared with Gothamist, the Department of Homeless Services processed just 89 migrants on Tuesday as Adams took legal action to modify the city’s shelter law. That night, 1,142 beds for individual adults and 206 family units went unused.

“I’m increasingly concerned about how they’re managing this,” said Shelly Nortz, deputy executive director for policy with Coalition for the Homeless.

Neha Sharma, a spokesperson for DHS, said the agency has maintained a vacancy rate across its sites.

“We must plan for peak capacity while also standing ready to address any new emergencies and dynamic shifts in need on the ground,” she wrote in a statement to Gothamist.

The Department of Homeless Services declined to answer questions about whether they were earmarking beds for non-migrants, and how they decide whom to house or refer elsewhere.

As Adams raised the alarm over record-high migrant arrivals, 1,174 beds sat empty on Sunday, 1,169 on Monday, 1,142 on Tuesday and 1,198 on Wednesday, according to the coalition’s data. Units designed for families with children or adult families have also gone unused: 125 were vacant on Sunday, 154 on Monday, 206 on Tuesday and 219 on Wednesday, the group said.

Meanwhile, city officials quietly opened new respite centers in a judo gym, a church and an old school building — some without showers — to house migrants.

“Given that we’re unable to provide care for an unlimited number of people and are already overextended, it is in the best interest of everyone, including those seeking to come to the United States, to be upfront that New York City cannot single-handedly provide care to everyone crossing our border,” Adams said in a statement on Tuesday when he petitioned a court to modify the 1984 consent decree from the case Callahan v. Carey, which established the right-to-shelter law.

Nortz said city officials have not given the coalition comprehensive data on homeless migrants. The group has not been granted access to all of the city’s shelter sites.

“If they won’t let us into a site, we can’t tell whether they’re meeting Callahan requirements even if they are sheltering Callahan-class members,” Nortz said.

According to the official DHS intake policy for migrants published in March, employees are instructed to refer newcomers to the city’s temporary sites, known as HERRCs, “if possible.”

Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services Anne Williams-Isom said during a news briefing Thursday that the city has been keeping sites for migrants separate “because there was some conflict at the beginning.”

“People when they come here, they’re scared, they’re nervous, they don’t know many people,” she said, so officials have been grouping people “with their similar community.”

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