Opinion: Shelter limits are not the answer to the migrant crisis

We need to find sustainable solutions to the crisis, instead of forcing people out of shelters.

Migrants wait at a bus stop outside of Floyd Bennet Field.

Migrants wait at a bus stop outside of Floyd Bennet Field. ANGELA WEISS/AFP via Getty Images

For decades, New Yorkers have agreed that every one of our neighbors, no matter who they are or where they come from, deserves a warm and safe place to sleep at night.

New York’s right to shelter mandate – which is supported by 79% of New Yorkers according to a HarrisX poll released this year – honors our city’s history as a haven for community care and guarantees a shelter bed for any New Yorker in need. Instead of developing sustainable policy solutions to the city’s unprecedented influx of migrants, Mayor Eric Adams’ administration has focused its crisis response on repealing the right to shelter. While we’re glad the city agreed to a settlement that will keep the right to shelter intact, the settlement will not stop the city from continuing the cruel and senseless policies like the 30- and 60-day rules: policies which evict migrants from shelter and force them to reapply for shelter every 30 days for single adults and 60 days for families.

These policies are unjustifiable, inhumane and does nothing but exacerbate one of the most dire humanitarian crises in the history of our city. 

We are seeing the devastating effects of the 30 and 60-day rules firsthand. Nearly one thousand migrants, including women and children, slept on the streets of New York City during one of the coldest weeks of 2024 after being kicked out of the shelter they were previously staying in. From January to February, nearly four thousand migrants had to wait for shelter placement, many not knowing where they would sleep at night and if it would be in a new shelter or on the street. As of March 12, 10,000 60-day notices have been given to migrant families with children, forcing them to leave the shelter they were previously in and reapply for new housing. Our city’s right to shelter was codified for this exact reason, to ensure no one – especially children – is forced to sleep exposed to the elements. Instead, we are watching the erosion of these legal protections in real-time.

The idea that the 30 and 60-day rules are helping our newest arrivals “find their footing in New York” is farcical. These policies have the opposite effect, forcing migrants into a cycle of evictions that leave them in a permanent state of precarity. For families with children, moving from one shelter to another every 60 days means children miss school and switch between multiple institutions throughout the school year, leading to significant learning disruptions and psychological trauma. For adult migrants, the 30-day rule destabilizes the support networks created by New York City’s agencies, nonprofits and faith-based organizations that connect people to legal services, employment, food assistance and more.

To address this humanitarian crisis, we must adhere to our values and enact solutions that do not leave migrants, asylum seekers and noncitizens fending for themselves while they navigate significant red tape. It’s time we put an end to policies like the 30 and 60-day rules and focus on sustainable and humane policies that treat every New Yorker – regardless of their citizenship status – with dignity.

That is why we, with the support of Women in Need and the New York Shelter for All in Need Equally Coalition, introduced legislation that would outlaw the Adams administration’s cruel 30 and 60-day rules. The legislation will prohibit any city or government from imposing limits on the length of time a person or family may reside in shelter or emergency housing. Furthermore, it will ensure that the 66,000 migrants who currently depend on New York City’s shelter system for support will have a warm and safe place to sleep for the rest of the winter and beyond. The city’s recent right to shelter settlement makes the passage of this state legislation even more urgent, so that the state legislature can use its power to prevent the mayor from carrying out these harmful shelter evictions. 

The suspension of the 30 and 60-day rules will open the door for permanent, sustainable policy solutions that will help our newest New Yorkers leave shelter and find long-term housing.  While the city continues to sign unnecessary and costly hotel contracts – contracts that cost taxpayers almost $400 per night – the city could expand the CityFHEPS housing vouchers to include migrants, which would only cost the city a mere $72 per night. Real solutions are out there, and only by ending shelter limits can we make serious progress in meeting the needs of those who reside in our city.

No one could have predicted the challenging situation New York City now faces. However, this reality does not justify violating New York's right to shelter law and creating limits on shelter stay that unfairly penalize and target migrants who are just trying to build a life for themselves in our city.

Ending the 30 and 60-day shelter limits isn’t a panacea – it’s just the first step. We must continue to prioritize humane and common-sense solutions, like expanding housing vouchers to include migrants, expediting employment visas and developing more faith-based housing. We urge our colleagues in both city and state elected roles to join us and support this legislation that will open the door to conversations on genuine, data-supported solutions to this crisis. The time to act is now.

Catalina Cruz is an Assembly member representing Corona, Elmhurst and Jackson Heights in Queens. Brad Hoylman-Sigal is a state senator representing the west side of Manhattan. Christine Quinn is the CEO of family shelter services provider Win and the former speaker of the New York City Council.

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