Gimme Shelter: Why Not Here?

The federal government should allow the city to use Fort Hamilton, the only active military base in the five boroughs, to construct temporary housing for migrants, this writer proposes. He says it would be a far better alternative than Floyd Bennett Field, which is four miles away from the nearest subway stop and prone to flooding.

| 27 Dec 2023 | 09:03

If there’s one thing nearly all New Yorkers can agree upon, it’s that the city and federal government have not handled the ongoing “migrant crisis” well.

While this has long been obvious, it’s again been highlighted by a number of recent events, all painful to witness. Migrants, expelled from their previous city accommodations, are sleeping on East 7th Street, at the shut down St. Brigid’s School now being used by the city as a processing center for migrants waiting to reapply for shelter.

Mayor Adams announcement of mid-year budget cuts—the necessity of which he blamed on the city’s astronomical migrant costs—which triggered, among other promised reductions, the end of Sunday library service.

The opening of an emergency migrant shelter at Floyd Bennett Field, in the furthest reaches of southern Brooklyn. In a sense, this was progress. A former airport and Naval Air Station sited on Jamaica Bay, Floyd Bennett’s 1,300 acres are part of the Gateway National Recreation area, managed by the National Park Service. A federal solution to a federal problem—at last!

Not so fast.

As one migrant dad told the New York Post, “We weren’t told where we were going. I work in the Bronx. My kids go to school in the Bronx. For us to live out here is ridiculous. We’re going back.”

For those unfamiliar with this part of Brooklyn, the nearest subway station is nearly four miles away. And as an added bonus it floods in heavy rain.

Ridiculous is an understatement.

What’s the alternative? Let’s look at how we got here.

Way back in August 2022, Republican Governor Greg Abbott of Texas sent a bus with over fifty migrants to New York City. Its arrival was met with outrage. “We think this is cruel, it’s disgusting and it’s pure cowardice,” said Manuel Castro, Commissioner of the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs.

Adams at the time echoed these charges.

By early October, Adams called the migrant situation “unsustainable.” The buses kept coming, including some from the Democratic city of El Paso, TX, as did tens of thousands of other asylum seekers who understood that things were better in New York. They put you up in hotels!

By January 2023, the hotels were full. Asked by CBS News political reporter Marcia Kramer, “Given the fact that you have said there’s no more room at the inn, would you consider either suspending or stopping New York City from being a sanctuary city?”

“No, that’s not on the agenda at all. I think as we celebrate the birth of Jesus, he was faced with no more room, but there was a place that was found and that’s what we’re doing. We have no more room, but we’re still finding space.”

By month’s end, the city had built an emergency shelter at the Red Hook Cruise Terminal, in Brooklyn. Migrant advocates called the facility “cold” and “isolated,” despite it being adjacent to an East River ferry stop and serviced by the same buses other Red Hookers take.

Adams, defying his critics, spent a night at the shelter. “I slept like a baby, it was warm,” Hizzoner said. “I had my nice little blanket. That’s my favorite blanket. I’m like Linus, you know, on Charlie Brown.”

A month later, the Red Hook site closed. At what price? Who knows?

By early September, Adams made headlines saying that migrant costs “will destroy New York City.” A couple of weeks later, the Floyd Bennett Field deal was announced.

Adams more recently warned New Yorkers that with up to 4,000 new asylum seekers arriving every week, we may soon find migrants sleeping on the streets. At a year end media avail, he pointed out that the city can’t legally turn away the buses and has no legal authority to arrest or deport migrants. And while the cost has been staggering to the city budget, he bemoans the lack of federal money for what he correctly sees is a national problem.

But what about pushing to use other federal land in New York City— like Fort Hamilton Army Base in the Bay Ridge section of Brooklyn?

At one point in its storied past, there were so many troops housed there, that the YMCA opened up a facility there and sponsored weekly dances for the GI’s who were passing through and young woman in the local community. Today it is still well maintained and youngsters in soccer leagues fill its fields every weekend.

Today, it is the only active military base within New York City. Its housing area includes six historic residences on Colonel’s Row, seventy modern townhouses for officers and senior NCOs, sixty older style high-rise apartments, and one hundred-fifty new three and four bedroom apartments. The housing area also includes five modern playground areas, a walking and fitness trail.

Numerous Army facilities offered temporary housing to Afghan refugees in 2021, though Fort Hamilton wasn’t among them. Why not? No reason was ever given, nor has one yet been offered why, if the Biden administration is serious about helping the city, temporary migrant housing couldn’t be constructed there today.

Unlike Floyd Bennett Field, Fort Hamilton has a nearby subway, at 95th Street, and a Brooklyn Public Library branch too. Migrants would even have a resident ally—if not one who desires them as neighbors—in Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, who, somehow, is among the small number of civilians who have private homes on the base. A vocal “Defund The Police” proponent, Williams seems content with the protections of the Military Police.

Do migrants deserve any less?

Apparently so.