How to help NYC’s new migrants this winter


An influx of thousands of migrants new to the country have arrived in New York City in recent months, often with few personal belongings, little money, and no phones.

Even though border state elected officials have been chartering fewer migrant buses to the city, hundreds of newcomers continue to arrive each month, as the city reels from sub-freezing temperatures and braces for more dark and cold days ahead.

From donating winter coats to keeping your eyes peeled at airports, here are some of the ways advocates say you can help:

Look out on your way home from the holidays

Many new migrants have arrived on buses chartered by border-state elected officials at the Port Authority Bus Terminal, where volunteer groups and city officials set up a welcoming area to offer essential items and transportation to city shelters.

But even as those buses have generally slowed down, migrants continue to enter the city from other ports of entry, like local airports and long-haul buses – and may not know their right to stay in a shelter or have transportation to get there.

“Be vigilant and keep your eyes open,” says Power Malu, executive director of Artists, Athletes, Activists, a local community group that helps transport newly arrived migrants to housing. He says his group helps transport some 200 to 300 migrants per day, including some found wandering city streets.

As you come through ports of entry into the city, Malu says to look for people that are clearly underdressed for the cold weather with few, if any, belongings. Often, he says, they’re afraid to ask for help.

He suggested: “Reach out, say hello – even if you don’t speak the language.”

“Everyday New Yorkers should look at this as a way that they can actually connect and do some good for others,” he added. “This indeed is an emergency when you have people just stranded and abandoned in the streets of New York.”

Direct new migrants to a shelter and places that can help

If you come across newly arrived migrants (or anyone, really!) in need of a place to stay, advocates say you can help them get transportation to family or friends living nearby. Or you can direct them to the city’s 24-hour shelter intake centers, or call 311 for contact information for special shelters for new migrants, called “Humanitarian Emergency Response and Relief Centers” (HERRCs), in various hotels.

(Note: There’s no clear consensus on the best place for new migrants to stay. While some advocates like Malu recommend the emergency shelters – if there’s availability – because of better treatment, others say these retrofitted sites may lack access to laundry and other services available in longstanding city shelters.)

If you encounter new migrants in need of assistance you’re unable to provide, you can also contact Malu at 347-229-8399. His organization is also in touch with employees at airports who may be able to assist.

At the Red Cross Headquarters in midtown on weekdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., the city’s “Asylum Seeker Resource Navigation Center” offers health care and legal referrals and enrollment in health insurance, school, and IDNYC, a city identification card available to all regardless of immigration status – and often necessary for new migrants to access other city services. Walk-ins are welcome on a first-come first-serve basis, and appointments can be scheduled through city shelters, schools, hospitals, and other organizations listed on the city’s main website listing its services for asylum seekers.

Ten other “satellite” navigation centers throughout the city (listed on the same website) provide similar services and sometimes others, like immigrants rights workshops and job trainings. While walk-ins are available at many satellite sites, appointments may be encouraged, depending on the location.

The above organizations may be able to connect newly arrived migrants with half-off subway cards through the city’s Fair Fares program, enrollment in NYC Care – a quasi-health-insurance program guaranteeing low- and no-cost healthcare regardless of immigration status – among other local programs available to low-income migrants.

Donate essentials – like winter coats

Several advocates helping newly arrived migrants say winter clothing – especially coats – are in high demand.

“Every day we’re giving out almost every coat we have in stock, and we’re just waiting to get more donations,” said Ilze Thielmann, head of Team TLC NYC, which provides essential items and other assistance to migrants at Port Authority Bus Terminal, where many first arrive in the city. “We get them in sporadically. But it’s just never enough coats for everybody.”

She added: “In fact, we got an email today from another organization that is helping this population, begging us for coats. And I said I wish I had the coats to give you, but I don’t.”

Thielmann said larger coats are generally not needed – all other sizes are in demand from medium and small for both men and women down to children and infants’ sizes. Also: clean new underwear, warm sweaters and pants, men’s clothes – given that many new arrivals are young, single men – diapers, strollers, feminine hygiene products, and other toiletries, especially deodorant and toothpaste.

The city has designated six locations throughout the city as drop-off sites for new clothing, toiletries, and hygiene items. The city’s Center for Faith-Based and Community Partnerships has paired each drop-off site with nearby city shelters housing migrants, said Eric Salgado, Assistant Commissioner for the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs.

Artists, Activists, Athletes is also accepting monetary donations to help buy Uber rides and other transportation for newly arrived migrants. And Team TLC is accepting volunteer sign-ups, tax-deductible monetary donations, and other items via delivery and Amazon wishlist. In-person drop-offs at the Port Authority Bus Terminal can be scheduled, or packages can be shipped to Team TLC NYC c/o Ilze Thielmann Manhattan Mini Storage, 645 W. 44th St., New York NY 10036.

Outreach to newly arrived migrants has been “very localized,” says Manhattan Councilmember Gale Brewer. So many advocates suggest that New Yorkers interested in helping should connect with local mutual aid groups, houses of worship, food pantries, elected officials’ offices, and other community groups in their neighborhood.

Several advocates point to a lack of a centralized donation network as a shortcoming of city, state, and federal government. While the city has funded several local groups to provide services for newly arrived migrants, others are still struggling to keep up with heightened demands from the influx, said Alana Cantillo, Vice President of Advocacy for New York Immigration Coalition.

“There really isn’t some central place that things are located,” she said. “I think that’s part of the problem.”

She added: “We understand that we’re sort of in an unpredictable triage moment, and now we’re going into several months. And that coordination still hasn’t happened.”


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