Wagswoofs – Heavy winds and rain wreaked havoc at the vast tent encampment in Floyd Bennett Field, preventing hundreds of migrant families from getting a good night’s sleep and causing distress among their frightened children. This unsettling situation led to a series of chaotic confrontations between the camp’s staff and its residents in the early hours of Monday morning.
Two families have shared their experience of being forced to leave the shelter during the storm. They recounted how they had to navigate their way back to the Roosevelt Hotel with their children in the early morning hours, enduring the rain and wind. However, city officials have denied these claims, stating that no one was compelled to leave.
While the tent shelters remained intact and fortunately no one was injured, this incident has brought attention to the challenging conditions at the city’s remote family migrant shelter. The shelter is currently home to approximately 1,700 residents, including numerous children, who are understandably feeling anxious and unsettled.
The city was bombarded with a series of frantic WhatsApp calls that started at 4 a.m. on Monday morning.
“In the midst of the chaos, with trembling all around, she expressed her distress in Spanish. Amidst the calls for calm, the sound of children crying filled the air. Her plea was clear – she implored for assistance to escape this dire situation.”
The videos shared on WhatsApp depicted the tents’ roofs billowing in the wind, creating loud hammering sounds.
Geraldine, a mother of three from Venezuela, described the situation in a phone call with THE CITY, stating, “It was such a thunderous sound that it seemed like the beams were going to break. The roof felt like it was going to fly off.” She requested to withhold her full name due to fears of retaliation. Geraldine further emphasized, “Not a single child slept.”
A number of videos captured several intense confrontations between groups of migrant families and staff members at the facility. In these videos, the families can be seen requesting evacuation while the staff members attempt to pacify them.
Videos of Floyd Bennett Field started circulating on social media overnight, causing some concern. To address these concerns, Office of Emergency Management Commissioner Zach Iscol, who is involved in managing the shelter, released a video in an attempt to reassure the public.
“These structures are remarkably sturdy. They have been specifically designed to withstand even the most extreme weather conditions,” he confidently stated, while positioned in front of one of the tents on Monday morning. “There was never a moment when they were at risk of collapsing or when the safety of people in this area was compromised.”
According to Iscol, there were evacuation plans in place, but they were not activated due to the conditions not warranting it.
He emphasized the utmost importance of ensuring the safety of the residents in this area. He acknowledged that the city does not consider it ideal for families with children to live at Floyd Bennett Field. However, the state and federal government have provided us with this location, and the team has made remarkable efforts to make it suitable for living.
Children Crying in Hysterics
However, the commissioner’s statement failed to calm the frightened families who were staying at Floyd Bennett. These families endured a sleepless night and some were unable to send their children to school on Monday. Many of them desperately requested to be relocated to a different shelter.
“The children were crying, completely hysterical,” shared a Venezuelan father of three in Spanish. He expressed his concern and chose to remain anonymous for fear of facing retaliation. “We’ve been awake since 2 a.m. It was a nerve-wracking situation. Thankfully, nothing serious occurred, but at the time, nobody was aware of that.”
One family experienced a frustrating situation when their beds and sheets got soaked inside the tents, while the majority remained dry. Upon approaching the staff to discuss the issue and seek a resolution, they were unexpectedly informed that they had the option to leave the shelter.
They had no other option but to leave Floyd Bennett on the bus in the early morning hours. They made their way back to the Roosevelt Hotel in the strong winds and heavy rain, with two children in tow, one of whom had a fever.
According to Kayla Mamelak, spokesperson for Mayor Eric Adams, there is no truth to the claim that any family was compelled to leave the shelter overnight.
Not Fit to Live In
The Floyd Bennett Field shelter, which opened in November, is the city’s initial endeavor to provide shelter for families with children in a “semi-congregate” environment. The shelter consists of four large dormitory tents, each divided with plastic walls that reach approximately seven feet in height. This setup ensures that families have a certain level of privacy, a departure from their previous arrangement where all migrant families with children were housed in individual hotel rooms.
Residents of THE CITY reported that the cold was initially the most jarring aspect to adjust to. They found themselves having to traverse a windy field for about half a mile to reach the nearby bus stop on Flatbush Avenue. Furthermore, in order to use the bathroom or go to the dining hall, shelter residents had to venture outside their heated tents and face the elements. Despite being inside climate-controlled tents, many residents complained about the presence of drafty cold patches and inadequate blankets, making it challenging to keep their children warm during the night.
In the weeks following, migrants have reported the emergence of various other issues, as shared with THE CITY. One concerning matter is the increasing frequency of illnesses among children, who are constantly falling ill with persistent colds, fevers, and coughs. Additionally, breakfasts and lunches are being served cold, posing a challenge as there are only four microwaves available for thousands of residents to reheat their meals.
Daily challenges arise when parents try to ensure that their children reach school on time. The designated buses, often overcrowded, leave the shelters rapidly, while the Q35 bus may bypass migrants without stopping. These are just a few of the reasons why advocates cautioned the city about sending families with children to this particular location.
The storm on Monday only added more fuel to the fire.
“We’re not seeking trouble, but that place is simply uninhabitable,” expressed a Venezuelan mother of three, speaking in Spanish and requesting anonymity due to concerns of potential repercussions. “It’s akin to living in a nightmare.”