Where are asylum-seekers living in New York City?

The city’s sprawling emergency shelter system for asylum-seekers includes higher concentrations in parts of Manhattan and Queens.

The Roosevelt Hotel in Manhattan has been converted into a so-called Humanitarian Emergency Response and Relief Center.

The Roosevelt Hotel in Manhattan has been converted into a so-called Humanitarian Emergency Response and Relief Center. Selcuk Acar/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Since the spring of 2022, New York City has stood up a sprawling system of emergency shelters and makeshift tent cities to house the tens of thousands of asylum-seekers who have come through the city’s care over the past two years.

Today, more than 64,600 asylum-seekers remain in city-run emergency shelters, including converted hotels and large tent-like shelter structures. That population, which includes single adults, adult families and families with children, is spread across the five boroughs, albeit not equally. Manhattan and Queens are home to a larger number of asylum-seekers staying in shelters than other boroughs, accounting for roughly 38% and 31% of all asylum-seekers, respectively, as of March 3. 

And when it comes to emergency shelters run by the Department of Homeless Services – which host a little over half of all asylum-seekers – there are higher concentrations in Southeast Queens, neighborhoods in northwest Queens, and in midtown Manhattan.

Data obtained by City & State shows that out of 162 DHS-run shelters for asylum-seekers across the city as of Feb. 22, Community Districts 1 and 12 in Queens hosted 20 and 24 DHS shelters, respectively, while Community District 5 in Manhattan hosted 10 DHS shelters. There were also some concentrations in Bronx Community District 6 and Brooklyn Community Districts 5 and 16, each of which hosted 8 DHS shelters. 

Data from the Department of Social Services shows how those 162 emergency sanctuary sites for asylum-seekers run by DHS are dispersed throughout the city by community district.

The city’s asylum-seeker shelters – of which there were 218 in total as of March 17 – are run by a variety of agencies, depending on what kinds of shelters they are. The above data represents only DHS shelters. The city’s 17 Humanitarian Emergency Response and Relief Centers, which tend to be larger, are mostly run by New York City Health + Hospitals, while a couple are run by the Department of Housing Preservation and Development. City Hall has not returned a records request for locations of all HERRCs. 

Shelters run by DHS account for the largest portion of the asylum-seeker population. As of this January, DHS-run shelters housed 34,057 asylum-seekers, according to a census tracker maintained by the city comptroller’s office. DHS shelters, which are largely in hotels, have been prioritized for families with children, in order to accommodate them in private rooms, while larger congregate settings house more single adults. As of January, the vast majority – 93% – of asylum-seekers living in DHS shelters were families with children. At that time, just three of the 162 DHS shelters served adult families, while six served single adults. 

But HERRCs also house a significant share of the asylum-seeker population in the city’s care. Several larger-scale HERRCs are in midtown Manhattan, including the Roosevelt Hotel, The Row Hotel, the Stewart Hotel and the Watson Hotel, contributing further to the concentration of shelters for asylum-seekers in Community Board 5. HERRCs also include several tent shelters around the city, including at the Creedmoor Psychiatric Center in eastern Queens and at Floyd Bennett Field in southeast Brooklyn. 

Over the past two years, the arrival of new migrant shelters in neighborhoods across the city has sometimes been met with harsh opposition from parts of the community, leading to protests and even lawsuits. Staten Island, which hosts a total of five DHS migrant shelters and just 1% of the total population of asylum-seekers, has seen both

Some community groups, meanwhile, have advocated for welcoming new arrivals, standing up pop-up resource tents and warming centers, even in some of the same neighborhoods where other community voices have rebelled.

“New York City has led the nation in managing this national humanitarian crisis, with more than 184,000 migrants coming to our city seeking care in the last two years, and, already, more than 120,000 of them have been able to take the next steps in their journeys thanks to our hard work,” a spokesperson for Mayor Eric Adams said in a statement. “We have opened more than 215 emergency shelters in response to this crisis, but have evaluated thousands of sites for use across the city, and we have utilized every viable option our city has to offer. As we have repeatedly said, we are simply out of good options to continue sheltering tens of thousands of migrants with hundreds more continuing to arrive and ask for shelter every single day.” City Hall has continued to call for additional state and federal help in the form of both financial support and work authorization. 

Some of the local City Council members in neighborhoods where there are higher concentrations of DHS shelters said that they appreciate that New York City and the Adams administration is dealing with a crisis, but said that they hope all parts of the city are pulling their weight to help manage that crisis. “I stop short (of being) extremely critical because I do know, unfortunately, it is a crisis. And in certain communities you just have more hotels than other communities, and that has been primarily the main facility that these shelters are sited in,” said Council Member Nantasha Williams, who represents Southeast Queens and whose council district – along with City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams’ council district – covers most of Community Board 12, where there are 24 DHS shelters. “But I do believe, as much as we can, we need to really address the fair siting issue, and we need to create a long-term plan for moving folks out of these hotels, and/or creating permanent housing.” 

Williams cited a report from New York City Comptroller Brad Lander’s office last year that showed a disproportionate distribution of traditional homeless shelters around the city, as well as city services like libraries and parks, that Lander said exacerbated racial and economic disparities. Williams also expressed concern about hotels in her district that were intended to drive new economic activity to downtown Jamaica but have instead been turned into shelters.

City Council Member Keith Powers, who represents midtown Manhattan and the eastern part of Community District 5, similarly said that he expects every part of the city to be pulling its weight. “I think everyone knows that we’re in an emergency. And so what I have come to expect is that every district in the city will help in an emergency,” he said, adding that he wouldn’t criticize any other district or elected official because districts all differ in what kinds of space and availability they can offer. 

Powers noted that there have been some issues raised in the community about some of the larger-scale shelters in Manhattan. With the Roosevelt Hotel, which serves as both the city’s arrival center and a shelter for families with children, Powers said that he’s worked with the administration to address issues that have come up, such as the instance last summer of asylum-seekers sleeping on the street outside the building as they waited for shelter placements. “In addition to the concerns about the shelter, we also want to make sure we’re treating people like human beings,” he said.

Though Powers said local leaders have a right to make sure facilities in their districts are run well and have the right procedures in place, the city also has to understand the moment. “I think we all have to be a little less parochial right now and understand that the city is going through a pretty unprecedented, difficult moment,” he said. “So this is a moment to work together and not to be intentionally combative.”