How to help asylum seekers in New York City

The number of asylum seekers arriving in New York has dropped significantly in recent weeks, aid workers say, but their needs have not.

Hundreds of migrants still arrive in New York every week, a city hall spokesman said — fewer than thousands when Adams declared a state of emergency in the city. The numbers could rise again in a few weeks thanks to a pending order from a federal judge.

Meanwhile, a network of charities, volunteers and mutual helpers strive to house, feed and support those who are here now as they navigate city life.

Heading into winter, “some of the needs are going to shift,” said Amy Sananman, senior vice president of community at United Way NYC, the organization hired by City Hall to oversee the relief efforts. She said migrants – many of them from Central and South America and West Africa – keep asking for warm clothes and the group is starting to collect holiday toys for the many migrant children who now live here.

Asylum seeker Rosybelth Lianres picked up her daughters Sara, 6, and Skarleth, 4, on September 8, 2022 on the Upper West Side.

Ariadna Phillips of South Bronx Mutual Aid – one of many mutual aid groups responding to the crisis – said the group’s all-volunteer members need money to cover the cost of everything from MetroCards to toiletries for new arrived people.

“We’re really on steam at this point,” said Phillips. “We go to wholesalers to buy warm clothes when we don’t have enough donations in the sizes we need. A purchase could cost $800.”

To pay for it, Phillips and volunteers like her “very regularly” ran crowdsourced fundraisers to get a refund, she said.

Wondering how you can help? THE CITY spoke to people in the five boroughs who are helping migrants get what they need right now. Here are some ways to support them:

give money

The group designated by the city government for cash donations is the United Way NYC Emergency Relief and Community Needs Fund. You can read more about the fund here or donate directly here. UWNYC’s Sananman said the group has raised about $680,000 so far and funded four organizations directly responding to the migrant crisis – Team TLC NYC, Artists-Athletes-Activists, Gambian Youth Organization and El Puente.

“Part of this was making sure people had food when they arrived, supporting people who had cellphone service so they could contact their solicitors and helping with ticket reissuance. There were people who came and said, ‘My family is in Ohio and they’re ready to see me. How do I get there?'”

You can also donate directly to charities. Phillips of South Bronx Mutual Aid said people can give money to this group through the online crowdfunding listed here, but she emphasized that many of the large mutual aid groups in the city coordinate and New Yorkers can fund any number of them to Putting money right into the hands of people helping migrants.

“When people feel a connection to their local mutual aid — like they’re downtown near Washington Square Park, support the Washington Square Park Mutual Aid — because we’re all in this together,” she said.

Donate items – clothing, toiletries, school supplies and more

Across the board, THE CITY relief workers spoke by stating that winter clothing is urgently needed at the moment.

“A lot of them are asking for coats,” Lt. Stanley Pierre-Louis, Deputy Commandant of The Salvation Army’s Jamaica Community Center in Queens, one of the donation centers designated by City Hall to accept and distribute items to asylum seekers. “Actually, any winter clothing. Jackets, boots – a lot of people come in and ask for boots. Hats and gloves too.”

Bags of donated clothing lined up at the Central Family Life Center on October 21, 2022.

Hiram Alejandro Durán/THE CITY

Newcomers are also asking for blankets and duvets, Pierre-Louis said, adding, “Maybe they don’t have enough in the shelters.”

Mark Appel, founder of The Bridge, another Brooklyn fundraising center, said new toiletries are needed, including shampoo, deodorant, toothpaste, toothbrush, mouthwash, menstrual pads, diapers and baby wipes.

As they sort through donated items, they assemble bags of toiletries for each migrant and distribute these kits to three shelters in their neighborhood.

“We learn at the shelter how many people there are and then we bring enough bags for everyone,” he said.

At the Central Family Life Center on Staten Island, office manager Shanina Tavarez said that in addition to new winter clothes and toiletries, school supplies like new backpacks, crayons and notebooks are being collected.

Contact information and opening times for all six donation centers can be found here.

Share your skills and time: legal assistance, driving, translation

There are a number of ways to help the migrants through volunteering, particularly if you have a legal education, have access to a car or know certain languages, the aid workers said.

The help of immigration lawyers is badly needed, Sananman said, and it’s an obligation because “migrant cases aren’t one and done.”

“It’s a multi-year, lengthy process and the legal system is so overwhelmed because the courts have been closed for so long,” she said.

People who have a vehicle and can spend time driving would be helpful to volunteers, who constantly receive emergency requests from asylum seekers or from aid groups trying to raise funds, Phillips said.

“We’re constantly asking drivers to drive out of pocket and pay for expensive gas and tolls because we’re constantly going to shelters. We never have enough drivers. One big thing we need is volunteers, especially volunteer drivers — that’s huge anywhere in the city,” she said.

City officials established temporary housing for single men immigrating to the country on October 18, 2022 on Randall’s Island.

Asylum seekers also need MetroCards, she said, which South Bronx Mutual Aid has covered from its crowdsourced funds.

Translation skills are also in high demand, both in Spanish and Wolof, to serve the thousands of West African migrants who have crossed the US southern border from their home countries and then arrived in New York.

Phillips also stressed that any groups offering free or low-cost OSHA-certified job training courses should get in touch with their group: As THE CITY previously reported, a lack of job training courses makes it difficult for migrants to work legally.

Sponsorship for emergency shelters

Sananman said UWNYC is beginning to coordinate with companies looking to fill the needs of an entire shelter currently housing migrants. She said the relief workers they work with have requested this type of help so they can get direct help more quickly if they have special needs.

“In shelters that are either exclusively asylum seekers or where there are many asylum seekers, we build relationships with companies that want to take over the shelter,” she said. “I would encourage people to think about it because then you can address the holistic needs of this population.”

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