By Alex Maroño Porto
Mirella, a Peruvian asylum seeker, came to New York City with her husband and her 11-year-old daughter, Georgina, escaping violence in their home country. They arrived here late one March night and headed to the Prevention Assistance and Temporary Housing (PATH) intake center, the New York City Department of Homeless Services (DHS) facility in the Bronx that assigns families to shelters. After filing the paperwork, they were directed to the Belnord Hotel, an emergency shelter for asylum seekers located on West 87th Street, between Amsterdam and Broadway.
“I am with my daughter and my husband is in a room opposite mine, because there was no family room,” Mirella explained in Spanish while being interviewed in front of the Belnord Hotel in late April. Like several other people we spoke to for this story, she declined to give her last name. (The Rag is identifying all those interviewed for this story by their first names only.).
The 131-room Belnord Hotel, which was used as a homeless shelter for single men during the pandemic, opened as a refuge for the city’s “migrant” or “asylum-seeking” population in March of 2023, said Sam Goldsmith, City Councilmember Gale Brewer’s communications director, in an email to the Rag. A DHS source indicated that the Belnord Hotel had simply been “turned over” to house migrants; according to Tripadvisor the Belnord Hotel closed to the public permanently in December 2022.
In March of 2022, Mayor Eric Adams had declared a state of emergency in New York City as a result of the influx of migrants, mostly from South America, into the city’s homeless shelter system. Many of the migrants were bused here after Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced his state would send migrants who crossed at the southern U.S. border to New York City as part of a political effort to demand more border security by the federal government. In April 2023, a city official told the Rag that since the mayor’s declaration, over 53,900 migrant asylum seekers arriving in New York had been offered shelter; over 33,900 were then in the city’s care.
According to Mirella, the vast majority of the current residents of the Belnord Hotel are families from Latin American countries. “There are people who recently arrived from Mexico, Ecuador, Peru, Venezuela and Colombia. And a few others from Haiti,” she said.” “It’s a family shelter.”
Dayana, an Ecuadorian asylum seeker, agrees. She came to New York after crossing the Texas border with her husband, who got deported. On her way to America, other migrants mentioned the support system the city had to offer, so she decided to come and apply for shelter at the PATH. She had arrived at the Belnord Hotel the previous day, and found it welcoming with attentive staff. “Most of the residents are families,” she said in an interview in Spanish. Standing next to the cobalt blue canopy entrance of the Belnord Hotel, she added that she hopes her own family is reunited soon. “[My husband] is now in Mexico, thank God, and hopes to cross soon.”
Sheltering at the Belnord Hotel comes with restrictions and compromises. Residents have a 10 p.m curfew and, according to Mirella, they are not allowed to enter other residents’ rooms, limiting social interaction. There are no individual kitchens due to the city’s fire codes and, although they receive three meals a day — at six a.m., noon, and six p.m. — the food is “not very nutritious,” said Mirella. “It’s overly processed and frozen. “We have a microwave and a fridge. If we had our own kitchen, it would have been a great asset for us to be able to cook and feed ourselves well.”
Food is also a subject of complaint at the 125-unit Riverside Terrace Residence, a second migrant shelter that opened in the neighborhood last March, on West 88th Street between West End Avenue and Riverside Drive.
“It’s fast food,” said a Russian immigrant, who asked to remain completely anonymous. After fleeing from Russia with her husband, daughter, and brother to escape the political crackdown in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, they ended up at Riverside Terrace about a month ago. Despite the limitations, she is grateful for her new Upper West Side home. “We were given two rooms and they feed us three times a day,” she said.
Wilson, a Colombian migrant who also arrived about a month ago with his wife and three children, said he was heartened by the toy and clothing donations from the community, which made them feel welcome. “The neighborhood has received us well and treats us with respect,” he said in an interview in Spanish outside the Riverside shelter. “There’s confidence and security.”
That’s a far cry from what some predicted in a New York Post story, when news broke that the Belnord Hotel and Riverside Terrace would be used as city shelters. One UWS resident told the Post “Bottom line is, they are bombarding us….It’s going to be the beginning of a gradual decline of our beautiful, historic, desirable neighborhood.”
When the Rag interviewed several neighbors of the new residents at the Belnord Hotel and Riverside Terrace, they offered more welcoming assessments. Joel, a 35-year resident of the Belnord Hotel (his is one of several families that have lived there for years), describes his new neighbors as polite and quiet. “So far, we haven’t had any problems,” he said in Spanish while standing with his wife, Celina, and Jesús, their son. “They are all family-oriented people with children.”
Jose, a security guard who has worked at the Belnord Hotel for the past three months, also emphasized the newcomers’ integrity and the favorable relationships they have forged with the neighborhood. “There haven’t been any altercations, everything has been good,” he said during a cigarette break.
For an area that has become increasingly unaffordable and progressively less diverse in recent years, the temporary shelters provide a space for new families to become part of the Upper West Side community. “We need an immigrant shelter,” said Ben, a West 87th Street resident of 10 years, standing outside his building, a few feet away from the Belnord Hotel. “This is a difficult neighborhood to come into as a migrant, with a pretty high cost of living.”
Riverside Terrace neighbors echo the opinions of their West 87th Street counterparts. Speaking in front of their five-story building, Kenneth and Carlos, both from Costa Rica, think the Upper West Side has evolved greatly since they arrived. “The neighborhood has become very diverse; historically, it had been very white” said Carlos, who moved to the area in 2008, in an interview in Spanish. “As migrants ourselves, we empathize with them,” added Kenneth.
Zafarou, who has lived in the area his whole life, added, “America is a place where no one is really supposed to be, except for the native Americans. They [the migrants] are obviously good people. They’re here to find a better life.”
Asylum seekers with iPhones in hand?? LOL. New Yorkers are so naive !! has anyone noticed there is NO war in Latin or Central America.. thousands of tourists every visit all these counties every year. 90% of them are economic migrants . Hardworking New Yorkers toil hours to pay for them . Why are New Yorkers so dumb?
Wars are in the Middle East and Africa.. but they can’t walk across the border . they need visas and too fly through airports where they checked.
Double Standards.. the real asylum seekers fleeing Actual wars in Sudan or Lebanon have to wait years to get visas ..
No wars, but plenty of blood thirsty gangs targeting the poor
Are you suggesting they have no rights?
How are they to communicate with their attorneys and with the immigration department without a phone? Do you suggest they send up smoke signals? Your comment is so annoying and so unfair.
I’ll take any one of these new neighbors over xenophobic, hateful ignorance. I work with immigrants in the healthcare system and have yet to meet a one who was not hard working, family-oriented and humble. I can only hope they represent the future of the UWS and the rest of the country.
The story doesn’t mention iPhones, where are you getting that from? Or did you just invent it?
You entirely lack sympathy, and at least to some degree you lack humanity.
There is a tremendous amount of violence in Mexico and Central America, often related to gangs and cartels. El Salvador, Honduras, and Venezuela have the top 3 intentional homicide rates in the world, with Mexico, Belize, and Colombi not far behind. The Mexican military is terrified of the gangs, and the police are often on their payroll or members themselves. Combined with economic issues, the only way to escape a violent situation in one’s community is to leave the country, since jobs are few and far between if you try to move to a new community, especially jobs that can support a family with children.
These wonderful people are not taking our jobs or affecting our neighborhood’s safety. This is also one of the wealthiest neighborhoods on the planet. Calm down.
Truly …..the best way to change minds is not to insult (like “you lack humanity”) those who don’t share your viewpoint.
They are costing our citizens over $5millions of dollars a day while the mentally ill and homeless are ignored and left to die on the streets.
Money doesn’t help the mentally ill. ONLY family or the patient can force the mentally ill into treatment or a hospital. The public and the government can’t. So our hands are tied. Your analogy is meaningless in that regard. Charlane de Blasio spent ONE BILLION on “Thrive,” can’t account for ANY of it, and who knows where it went? I know when someone risks all to come here, they wish to work and have a productive life, UNlike many natural born Americans.
that’s a popular lie, repeated endlessly about Chirlane McCray. Thrive “spending” consisted mostly of existing programs and was itemized at the program level online, annually. Unless the Adams administration took it down, it should be easy to find. Thrive also received a formal review by Comptroller Scott Stringer. There were some findings, but they were exceedingly minor, nothing like the fabulist and dramatic claims being made in the NY Post and by right wing propagandists. It was really horrible how McCray was treated.
It’s not one or the other. Not close. The treatment of mentally ill and homeless hasn’t changed on account of the migrants.
We spend nothing on mental health. Same do-gooders who advocate for more shelters, scream about mentally ill rights not to be institutionalised despite the desperate need for some to be committed . It fits with our politicians agenda just fine – no need to spend money and resources.
Disagree with the absolutism of the statement “the only way”. Many of them would readily admit they’re indeed economic migrants – “would like to earn in dollars for a few years, before going back” is the direct quote I’ve heard.
Friends from the LatAm region (upper-middle-class/US-educated) readily roll their eyes at the claims that the situations in most of these countries are as dire as you’d describe for the average citizen. All are highly skeptical and even dismissive about the “true” motivations of the waves of migrants from their countries. It is a verifiable fact that the red carpet rolled in front of them In NYC is no way a deterrence to this migration. The murder rate in Colombia is lower than that in Chicago. The murder rate in El Salvador is lower than that in Baltimore (!). Etc.. etc.
And no, these arguments don’t make them any less wonderful as people, or any less hardworking and worthy of success, – nor does it make me lacking in sympathy or humanity. The decision to migrate is highly personal, heavily nuanced and subject primarily to individual circumstances.
Warning flags go up when I see someone select a few statistics that favor his point of view while dismissing evidence to the contrary as “claims.”
Venezuela is where the majority of current migrants are from and it had a 2022 homicide rate of 45.6 per 100,000 compared to Chicago’s 25.8 per 100,000. That doesn’t even cover the horrendous amount of violent crime against women, which is why Venezuela — along with your model choices of El Salvador and Colombia — are on multiple international lists of the most dangerous countries in the world for women to live.
I don’t know what you define as an “average citizen” in Latin America, but consider that your “upper-middle-class/US-educated” friends had a different existence from the desperate people making their way here. Consider also that affluence and college don’t make your friends more astute judges; if anything, privileged people everywhere are more ignorant of hardship.
Finally, it’s impossible to disconnect crime and poverty as spurs for seeking a better life. When you put quotes around “true” to characterize migrant motivation, it deliberately casts a pall of suspicion that all the praise in the last paragraph can’t disguise.
My warnings go up when people do not even question why this particular wave of migrants gets to get free housing and free meals? People from the same countries, under same or similar regime, same economy, same crime level, have been migrating for decades but had to work to afford to live here. So what changed that all of a sudden we provide all this assistance ? It is not the question if they are wonderful or not, even keeping in mind that they are completely unvetted. The question is – why now we started to provide all this at the taxpayer expense which is a slap to the migrants who came a few years earlier and had to work hard?
Thank you, Alex, for this thoughtful reporting.
In a follow-up, could you please explain how these migrants can move on from shelters and become part of the NYC immigrant community – living, working, independently? Are they likely stuck in these shelters and dependency limbo for months/years?
I genuinely don’t understand their path forward.
Like every generation of poor immigrants before them. Work, save, invest, upgrade, work more, one foot in front of the other…day after day.
This is simply false. The poor immigrants before them had vastly different “rights for services” when they arrived. Legally.
How would someone who just arrived in NYC know what the UWS has been in the past as far as diversity or socio economic breakdowns? Sounds like a talking point someone told him. That being said the Belnord has not been a problem at all. I live near to it and it has been fine.
My mistake. I misread this before coffee. I have never felt like the UWS is has been “white” and I say this as an Chinese American. We have been on the UWS since the 1980s also.
Are you talking about the couple in the last picture? They didn’t just arrive. They are neighbors to Riverside Terrace and have been there since 2008.
The person in the article who was talking about the neighborhood’s diversity moved here 15 years ago — hardly “just arrived.”
The individual who made the comment arrived in the neighborhood in 2008. They didn’t just arrive.
Reminder that the City is obligated to provide shelter to anyone who needs for as long s needed (could be years) including those from out of state and here, from out of country.
BTW as significant Manhattan hotel/shelter space is being used for the migrants bused from Texas, it appears that some Manhattan families (New York residents) who’ve become homeless are being placed in shelters/hotels in the boroughs….
Correction: The Riverside Terrace Residence on 88th street is located between West End Avenue and Riverside Drive, not Bdwy & Riverside.
Thanks, we’re correcting it
Thank you for this interesting, thorough article.
I would like to provide a piece of nuance that is necessary for WSR as a whole. A lot of us have major issues with the Safe Haven facility, particularly because it is across the street from a school. Those who support it portray us as heartless, narcissistic Trump-loving NIMBYs who only care about our apartment values.
I would be much more open to that it being used for migrants like those in this article. Because the vast majority of them are law-abiding, mentally stable people who would love to work and are hoping this is only a temporary stop – many are families.
If you told me that Safe Haven was screening for these type of people within the homeless population, I would be much more OK with it. But they are not. They are taking all comers, likely including a number of people who are better served (i.e. helped, not warehoused) in high touch facilities that shouldn’t be in residential neighborhoods, and definitely not across from a school. This is a huge difference that many seem to fail to understand.
That being said, I am frustrated that NYC is being forced to do more than its fair share of housing migrants. This should be spread out nationally, and we need a better border strategy (I’m not sure what that is – I am not suggesting something Trumpian).
I know this is likely a bit too many words but please humor me. I am trying to bring peace, understanding and common ground to the warring factions of UWS.
I’m echoing the sentiment
More than it’s fair share? No it hasn’t. You only care because it’s affecting NYC. This wasn’t a problem as long as it impacted Texas, California, Arizona etc. Now we need better border policy? SMH.
Do you know me? I have thought this all along. There are a lot of places in middle America where they are desperate for workers. Some of these immigrants should go there.
I believe strongly we have an obligation to help. But such a huge number coming to New York is a challenge to our resources. It would be a win-win for some of them to go elsewhere – filling jobs that need to be filled and allowing the immigrants to live in places where there are more resources available.
Stop looking for reasons to be angry. Some of us in the center are actually able to be rational about things and try to help people but do it in an optimal way, rather than being hateful like a Republican or tripping over ourselves to make ourselves feel good without concern for those who we are supposed to be trying to help.
Thanks to Mr. Marono Porto and the West Side Rag for this great piece.
As one who lives near both facilities, I have seen nothing but happy families who bring good energy to our neighborhood. My one observation is that they may not end up in quite as lovely a place when they find permanent housing, but reassuming their independence will no doubt be worth it.
to worldlytraveler: have you heard about the bandits, drug lords, and just plain outlaws in central america especially. Did you hear about the nuns that were murdered not too long ago. What news do you follow and in what world. What country would you be living in right now if some past family members did not come here for a better life. Have some feeling for fellow humans in a difficult place. Not everyone coming here is evil.
I read through these comments after an entire day of teaching immigrant kids who come to elementary school not speaking a word of English and sometimes not having had a decent breakfast. They make me so sick. This is NOT political, and they are here whether we are happy with it or not. These are human beings, families, and kids who have endured the unimaginable. Things that you could never even endure, since so many can’t even ride the subway these days. They get here and are stripped of their clothing and given 2 sets of clothes and some toiletries. They heat frozen bagels on their radiators if they have heat and don’t always have access to a microwave or cooking options. It is up to the community and the schools to give them any help other than that. The DOE has done squat to help with any language barrier or any bilingual school therapist to help young children become part of the community or talk about what they have gone through. I live and breathe this story day in and day out. The news and our poser mayor only give you a quarter of the story. You all have charmed lives compared to what these HUMANS have endured. Have a little compassion, people, and suck it up. None of us asked for this, but let’s make a difference.
thank you MKing. I work in a public hospital in Queens where we service thousands of immigrants, including asylum seekers. I have frequently complained about the many abusive comments, but i tend to get censored when i do so.
Here’s a secret: this immigration influx will turn out to be GOOD for NYC. Immigration has kept this city going and it was slowing down. We need more families with children. We need more working people, not just the ultra-rich and people buying pied-a-terre apartments (absentee owners).
NYC does very well when it implements “give me your tired, your poor.” It becomes calcified when it implements “please give me more billionaires.”
Also an UWS teacher and right there with you. Many of these children are VERY far behind in their native language, forget about knowing any English. We have been given ZERO extra resources, training, etc to help them. It feels like the pandemic all over again, when schools were left to figure it out entirely on their own. I am totally committed to educating any child who walks into my classroom, but I feel out of my depth. Google translate only goes so far.
Wondering if the Eastsiders should share in the responsibility of housing immigrants ??
I believe they also have hotels and other spaces that would work!!
“All 197 rooms at the Bentley Hotel, on York Avenue and East 62nd Street, will be used to help house homeless migrant families, the Department for Social Services confirmed to Patch, in a short-term contract.” Apr 26, 2023
Edit: I just wanted to add this. I walked by this building nearly every day of my life and never knew it was a shelter. https://patch.com/new-york/upper-east-side-nyc/old-upper-east-side-shelter-building-be-torn-down-plans-show
The Bentley was a hotel until the City contract mentioned.
My relatives have stayed there – now trying to find another hotel,
Hotel prices are incredibly expensive.
Numerous Manhattan hotels now being used for “asylum seekers”
I came here for the comments and they didn’t disappoint.
Actually, they deeply disappoint. If these comments are from actual people in our neighborhood, then I am so ashamed of who we’ve become. Certainly we need immigration reform, that doesn’t mean we need to vilify migrants who are here.
I don’t think most people realise that these are the economical immigrants and are not eligible for the asylum. They are not refugees , they are economical migrants. I’m the first generation immigrant and had to work all sorts of jobs as did the rest of us 25-30 years ago in order to make it in our new country. Free housing including food and healthcare were unheard of. We made it.
Why do we have to support people who are looking for better economic situations? This is dumbfounding.
I love this idea that there is a clean distinction between so-called economic migrants and “legitimate” refugees. Whatever you have to tell yourself to justify your own inhospitality.
According to Immigration And Naturalisation Service, there’s a very clear distinction, definition and criteria for asylum seekers. You don’t get to make your personal view into a law
Sorry, the distinction between economic migrants and refugees are defined by the US immigration law. Your personal view might differ from it, but it doesn’t invalidate the law.
Let me get this straight. I pay 50% of my income in taxes so economic migrants can come here illegally and my taxes are used to pay for their living costs while they settle here. I spent several years to emigrate to the US legally and jumped through several hoops. This is just a slap in the face for following the law.
they are asylum seekers. they ARE following the law.
I know people who waited years to legitimately become citizens, worked hard, jumped through the hoops, only to see illegal immigrants arrive, go right on public assistance, and in many cases stay there for years while activists eased their way to citizenship.
The tragic life and death of Jordan Neely has highlighted yet again the appalling funding gap for mental health services in NYC. How much of the money going to illegal immigrants could be better used for our own citizens? Why does the left think it’s wrong to prioritize the desperate needs of fellow New Yorkers?
Amazing that we are going to blow a couple billion dollars on people gaming our asylum system and swiss cheese border, but then we leave the mentally ill and homeless to rot in the street and inside the subway system because we allegedly don’t have enough money to address our domestic crises. Then, when something goes wrong and a mentally ill person dies, the people running government want to divert attention away from fact that they’re doing ZERO about these pour souls.
In the meantime, per NYT, one of the Manhattan hotels the City is using for the “asylum seekers” is kicking out a longtime resident, age 82, so his room can be used for the “asylum seekers”.
That is beyond despicable. Shows that there’s no true compassion, only political games. How does the 82-year old is supposed to survive while able-bodied individuals get free housing and meals?!!! Incredible.
Regardless of one’s opinion on this topic, it is important to understand some background including:
1) there is variation in demographics/reasons – some impoverished, some not, some fleeing violence, some not etc.
2) social media is a big factor with false messaging that the border is “open”, that this is the “window” etc. For example, some are people who left Venezuela years ago, settled in Chile or elsewhere with jobs etc – but now hearing that the border is open, are seeking entry…
So the media sends “false” messages that the border is open but migrants hearing these “false” messages are able to enter after years of waiting elsewhere? Doesn’t seem false to me.
I know some long-term residents living in one of the buildings and feel very sorry for them. A swarm of migrants & city employees occupying their living space for 24 hours must be extremely hard to cope with daily.
I hope the city has the slightest consideration of setting the migrant management facilities utterly separate from the residents living floors to avoid noise & conflict.