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Mutual Aid Groups, Asylum-Seekers Support Families Facing Eviction

Above photo: Asylum seekers gathered at the Fourth Universalist Society on the Upper West Side for the Posada de Comadres on Dec. 16. Claudia A. Villanova.

As winter gets underway, thousands of migrants and asylum seekers struggle in precarious circumstances.

On Saturday, Dec. 16, hundreds of migrants and asylum seekers gathered at the Fourth Universalist Society on the Upper West Side for the “Posada de Comadres.” Coordinated by a coalition of mutual-aid and immigrant-rights groups, the event featured a housing workshop, a resource fair, the distribution of winter clothing and a mobile health clinic that offered basic health services.

Valentina (a pseudonym) and her family, asylum-seekers who fled Colombia, were one of the families present at the event. They are also among the 3,500 families that received an eviction notice from the city earlier in the month. Valentina is over eight months pregnant; her baby is due in the first week of January.

She has until Dec. 26 to vacate the Row NYC hotel-turned-shelter, where she has been living with her husband and 12-year-old daughter since they arrived in the city a little over a year ago.

The evictions come as Mayor Eric Adams’ 60-day housing limit for families staying in the city-run shelter system takes effect.

According to the latest City data, over 67,000 migrants reside in city shelters and emergency housing in midtown hotels, school gymnasiums, office buildings and temporary shelter complexes — most recently on Floyd Bennet Field.

Despite condemnations from immigrant and housing rights groups, the mayor warned New Yorkers that they will see “people sleeping in the streets” this winter as the city’s overwhelmed shelter system has run “out of room.”

As winter gets underway, thousands of migrants and asylum seekers struggle in precarious circumstances, and many families like Valentina’s face imminent eviction with no guarantee of reallocation.

The Posada As A Symbolic Event

She [Valentina] has been failed just like a lot of folks here have been failed,” says Edith Muleiro, who has gotten to know many of the migrant women in attendance over the past year as a volunteer for the Undocumented Women’s Fund (UWF), the group leading the event’s coordination.

The UWF is a volunteer-run mutual aid organization connecting recently-arrived single-parent headed migrant families to community resources in New York City.

According to organizers, the event aimed to support families facing imminent evictions from shelters while raising concern over the shelter system’s inhumane conditions as the result of City policies.

A posada is a traditional celebration observed in parts of Latin America nine days before Christmas to commemorate Mary and Joseph’s search for shelter to birth Jesus. This Posada de Comadres sought to draw a “symbolic parallel between this biblical pilgrimage” and the ongoing struggle for migrants’ right to shelter in the city.

Before the festivities, housing-rights advocates offered a teach-in with up-to-date information on planned evictions, migrants’ legal rights and options for long-term housing.

Nonetheless, the information they had to share was limited as the fallout of the mayor’s policy has sparked unprecedented “chaos and confusion.”

“Everyone here is doing their best to provide the information we have,” said Muleiro.

Those facing eviction must undergo a lengthy process to reapply for housing at the City’s reticketing center, which opened in East Village in October. Hundreds have waited outside the center in block-long lines, with many forced to camp overnight in the cold.

Where Valentina’s family will be relocated remains unclear. Immigrant-rights advocates warn that the majority will be placed in a makeshift tent city in Floyd Bennett Field, a former airfield in Brooklyn.

Several videos posted to social media showed heavy rain flooding the inside of the shelter at Floyd Bennett amid reports of over three inches of rain last week. In addition to flooding, migrants report frigid temperatures, unsanitary restroom facilities and staff refusing to call ambulances or evacuate sick children from the makeshift shelter site.

“The evictions affect the children and their education, in particular,” said Dayana, a migrant mother and member of the UWF community. “They already started school, and we don’t know where they will end up.”

“Evictions displace our connections within the community,” said Ximena Bustamante, UWF founder and coordinator. She promised to continue the fight against the mayor’s frequent migrant evictions while speaking to participants with a megaphone in the UWS church alongside housing advocates.

“Forcing families with children who have already endured unthinkable suffering on their journey to New York to be denied safe shelter is devoid of any humanity and is a stain on our city,” Legal Aid and the Coalition for the Homeless.

A Lack Of Support, Degrading Living Conditions And Administrative Burdens

Beyond the threat of evictions, migrants and asylum seekers have endured inhospitable shelter conditions and a lack of access to social services from childcare support to legal resources.

Yeimy, an asylum seeker from Panama and single mother, resides in the former Night Hotel on the Upper West Side. Conditions in the cramped hotel room she shares with her three children, aged nine months to four years, have been abysmal. In addition to a lack of diapers and baby formula, she reported a cockroach infestation.

“They [the shelter staff] have promised to fumigate since I arrived almost a year ago.”

Like many other single-female-headed families, Yeimy has been unable to find work raising an infant without access to childcare. The staff at her shelter prohibits parents from leaving their children in the care of other migrants in the shelter.

Volunteers confirm that the policing of migrants at shelters is common; some women at the posada complained of their rooms being searched without consent.

“They’re not allowed to cook or bring food in [the shelter]. The food for their children is really minimal and sometimes even moldy,” said Muleiro. Valentina struggled with health issues early in her pregnancy, which she attributes to stress but also poor nutrition.

In the face of these difficulties, migrant and asylum-seeking women affiliated with UWF created the “Red Comadre,” or Co-mother Network, to build community, solidarity and collective organizing among undocumented women. The internally-led group advocates for better conditions not just for themselves but for others within the community.

The growing network of 25-30 has been an important source of practical and emotional support for Yeimy in navigating her transition to New York.

“It’s helpful to have support from women going through the same thing. Others can empathize, but it’s not the same,” said Yeimy. “We help and learn from each other because we understand. It’s powerful.”

A Deliberate Strategy Of Deterrence

The mayor has dismissed the criticism leveled by immigrant and housing-rights advocates. “We’re doing everything in our power to treat families as humanely as possible,” said a spokesperson for the Mayor’s office at a press conference in December. “We are quite simply out of good options.”

Many at the posada don’t buy the City’s defense. From cutting electricity to failing to maintain facilities, the difficult living conditions at city shelters are largely seen as deliberate among volunteers.

“This is just one of many examples of under-resourced and understaffed mutual aid groups and NGOs filling in the gaps where the government should be responsible,” said Muleiro in frustration.

The solution to an overburdened system would be to provide migrants with the tools to advocate and support themselves and their families. Seen, for example, in the painfully slow distribution of work permits amid the city’s acute labor shortage.

“People don’t want to live in midtown Manhattan in a hotel; no one wants that.”

Update: In response to her request for reasonable accommodation, the city extended Valentina’s eviction date to Jan. 9 – a few days after her due date.  

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