‘Pivot and shift’ to Plan B: Randalls Island tent city in infancy as Mayor Adams fends of critics of migrant shelter relocation

It was déjà vu all over again Tuesday as the city began constructing a tent migrant center on Randalls Island to replace the one they initially sought to open on flood-prone ground at the Bronx’s Orchard Beach.

A coalition of city agencies such as the Department of Corrections, NYPD, FDNY, and NYC Emergency Management convened at the parking lot of Icahn Stadium Tuesday afternoon amidst heavy rainfall. Still very much in the early planning stages, city workers spent the morning surveying the area in preparation for what will be another large-scale construction project.

Mayor Eric Adams named Randall’s Island on Monday night as the new location which will temporarily house asylum seekers as the city continues to cope with the influx of newcomers. Dubbed the Humanitarian Emergency Response and Relief Centers, Randall’s Island will replace Orchard Beach after the Bronx parking lot became inundated with flooding, forcing the city to abandon initial plans.

Surveying the area. Photo by Dean Moses
Photo by Dean Moses

Despite already setting out plans for the Randall’s Island protect, Mayor Adams said Tuesday that his administration was ready to “pivot and shift” after the Orchard Beach site proved no longer viable. 

“We pivot and shift. Listen, we are not afraid to pivot and shift. People stay down roads even though they know it is bad because they are afraid of what the media is going to write about them, no. We pivot and shift based on the need,” Mayor Adams said during a press conference Tuesday.

When amNewYork Metro asked the mayor how much money had to be expended due to the abandoned venture, the mayor replied that it is not about funds.

“It is not about money lost, it is about using our dollars smartly. We made the decision to switch to Randall’s Island and it is more cost effective to do so,” Adams told amNewYork Metro.

As quick and as unexpected as the chance of plans were announced, a wave of new criticism poured in. Several elected officials and advocate organizations lambasted the move, citing many of the same concerns they levied at Orchard Beach.

“It’s not about money lost,” the mayor told amNewYork Metro in response to funds spent to relocate the Humanitarian Emergency Response and Relief Centers. Photo by Dean Moses

“While Orchard Beach was a particularly poor location for a tent shelter given its history of flooding and other factors, a tent shelter anywhere in this city cannot be used to circumvent the right-to-shelter mandate. We’re grateful the administration terminated the Orchard Beach location after cautions and pressure from advocates and local leaders, including our office. At the same time, we can’t see another tent city pop up without basic humanitarian conditions being met, and I hope the administration is more quickly receptive to our concerns moving forward,” Public Advocate Jumaane Williams said in a statement.

Williams was joined in his concerns by The Legal Aid Society and Coalition for the Homeless who issued a joint statement that while applauding the city for stepping to help care for the influx of humanity, the groups raised transportation questions.

“The City must look to other solutions instead of tent cities, where our clients will be isolated, vulnerable to extreme weather, and far from public transportation and other critical services. Hotels have always been the better short-term option, rather than erecting tents in inaccessible parts of New York City. Furthermore, right now, this Administration can unilaterally remove the many bureaucratic barriers that plague its housing voucher process to transition more homeless New Yorkers from shelters into safe, permanent housing. Doing so would free up shelter capacity for new entrants into the system,” part of the statement read.

Borough President Mark Levine also shared his thoughts on the issue, highlighting the lack of transportation to the proposed site. 

“For this plan to succeed, many logistical concerns must be addressed at the Randall’s Island site, particularly the limited transportation options there. To ensure asylum seekers can easily move to and from the island, service on the M35 bus should be greatly expanded, and regular ferry service must be established connecting Randall’s to the mainland of Manhattan,” Levine said. 

Mayor Eric Adams. Photo by Dean Moses

Adams, however, fired back at those who lambasted him for the tent city situation, charging that people on polar opposites of the political spectrum were pushing their viewpoints more than helping the city resolve the crissi.

“The far right is doing the wrong things and the far left is doing nothing. Everyone needs to be in this game, you know. These people are saying don’t put folks here don’t put folks there,” Adams said. “Everyone should be all hands-on deck.”

As of Tuesday, the process on Randall’s Island was in very early stages, but the mayor believes the facility will be up and running in a matter of weeks.