City Order Slows Efforts of East Village Non-profit Amidst Ongoing Migrant Crisis

Dec. 12, the line outside St.Brigid’s on Avenue B and East 7th. (Photo Courtesy of Vanessa Woolfolk)

On Avenue B and East 7th Street outside of the old St. Brigid’s Catholic School in the East Village is a line of metal crowd control barricades. While often used to bar access during concerts and by police, they were used on Dec.1, to guide the line of migrants and asylum seekers who have surpassed the 30 to 60-day shelter limit. 

After being saved in 2008 following an anonymous $20 million donation, financial hardships left the building abandoned for four years. The school closed following an announcement in Feb. 2019, by the Archdiocese of New York. However today, it’s been repurposed as a reticketing center that also serves as an Asylum Seeker Resource Center, according to the city’s official website.

On Dec. 1, a gentleman wearing a peacoat and polished shoes crossed the street once he reached the crowd control barricades that migrants were waiting behind. The line stretched around both sides of Seventh Street and Avenue B and there was more than enough room on the sidewalk for a passersby. Once he reached the corner of 90 Avenue B, he walked across the street and made a right- doubling back towards Thompson Square Park. He didn’t look over at the line of migrants, volunteers, or the camera operators from CBS once. 

While some New Yorkers take measures such as the gentleman above to mentally and physically distance themselves from the homeless and migrant population, members of non-profit organizations like EVLovesNYC insert themselves into the lives of these vulnerable groups. 

On average, East Village Loves NYC has served an estimated 450,130 meals since 2020. They began serving their community by sharing meals with neighbors in need during the pandemic. They have grown to 3000+ volunteers who spend their Sundays in the nonprofit’s East Village kitchen preparing meals. They usually receive cooperation from the city, but on Dec. 1, co-founder Mammad Mahmoodi and volunteers were forced to give meals to migrants through the windows of the St. Brigid Elementary School. An Instagram post from @evlovesnyc with 58,620 likes documented the event with a caption that read, “We are DISGUSTED at the City and its refusal to work with us to feed some of the most needy people of the city today.”

Board member and coordinator, Ann Shields confirmed the Instagram caption. The city initially agreed to let the organization provide food. They arranged a time and volunteers showed up prepared but were asked to stop after distributing around 100 hot meals and some winter coats. Volunteers were then told by city staffers to wait up to four hours and given no reason. After offering to give the rest of the supplies to the city, they were met with refusal.

The organization, which is classified as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, believes the city is overpaying its vendors who receive around $14/meal, some of which have had visible mold according to the recollection of EVLovesNYC volunteers. The list of vendors includes DocGo, a telehealth company that specializes in COVID testing. DocGo received a $432 million no-bid contract from the Adams administration to provide care for migrants. There have been complaints of wasted food while the company reports third-quarter earnings which show an increase in profits with revenue reaching  $186.6 million. This number is a 49 percent increase from $125.5 million in the second quarter of 2023. The second quarter earnings increased from $104.3 million in the third quarter of 2022. 

In other large cities, the response to homelessness and the migrant crisis also receives criticism. Chicago residents and reporters such as Mick Dumke, editor and reporter for Block Club Chicago, have been using social media platforms to express their concerns. Most recently they have included worries about the city paying “above market rates and undisclosed amounts to contractors and landlords.

NYC officials estimate 150,000 new immigrants in need. In Denver, there have been similar figures and responses to the influx. The Colorado City, like New York City, was promised several millions of dollars in aid from the federal government. Denver has received less than $1 million in federal aid and NYC Deputy Mayor Anne Williams-Isom was recently asked by Mayor Eric Adams to cut the asylum seeker budget by 20 percent. 

On Dec. 12, Ms.Sanchez who works at the office answered, “We don’t have information on that instance.” It likely involved a separate team or there may have been a time limit according to her knowledge of public programs. “If they set up a program with an organization, the organization needs to be in contact to confirm established times and proposals.”  

This is not an unusual request for public programs, especially ones that may require city staff or safety measures like the police. There are also no laws in New York that mimic the newly enacted ordinance in Newark, NJ which requires patrons to pay for a permit to feed the homeless or asylum seekers. NYC requires a permit to solicit donations in outdoor and indoor spaces.

Shields stated the city has since been in contact with the organization. “They got in touch and apologized and then offered to set us up at the center on Sunday with a tent and tables. So it was a weird turnaround.”  

The caption on the @evlovesnyc post ends with a sentiment felt by many volunteers. “We are tired of the City’s rhetoric. They constantly say “You can’t blame us for this,” while they continue to mismanage the situation.” 

More information on donations, volunteering, and initiatives from both the city and EVLovesNYC can be found online.