Hundreds of migrant families at the sprawling tent encampment at Floyd Bennett Field were unable to sleep due to the strong winds and heavy rain on Monday morning. The harsh weather conditions not only caused discomfort but also frightened the children. As a result, there were chaotic and tense confrontations between the staff and the residents during the early hours of the morning.
Two families who spoke to THE CITY claimed that they were expelled from the shelter during the storm, leaving them to find their way back to the Roosevelt Hotel in the early morning hours, battling the rain and wind with their children in tow. However, city officials refuted these claims and stated that no one was compelled to leave.
The tent shelters remained intact and fortunately no one was injured, but this incident has brought attention to the challenging circumstances at the family migrant shelter in the remote city. The shelter houses around 1,700 residents, including numerous children, who are currently feeling anxious and unsettled.
The city was flooded with a series of frantic WhatsApp calls, starting at 4 a.m. on Monday morning.
In a state of panic, she expressed her distress in Spanish, “The whole place is shaking. They’re instructing us to remain calm, but the children are in tears. We desperately need assistance to evacuate.”
The videos shared on WhatsApp depicted the tents’ roofs billowing in the wind, creating loud hammering sounds.
Geraldine, a Venezuelan mother of three, described the situation in a phone call with THE CITY, saying, “It was such a thunderous sound it seemed like the beams were going to break. It seemed like the roof was going to fly off.” Concerned about potential retaliation, she requested that her full name not be used. She added, “Not a single child slept.”
Several videos captured intense confrontations between groups of migrant families and staff members at the facility. In the videos, the families can be seen requesting evacuation while the staff members attempt to pacify them.
Videos of Floyd Bennett Field began circulating on social media overnight, causing concerns among the public. In response, Office of Emergency Management Commissioner Zach Iscol, who is involved in managing the shelter, shared a video to address these concerns and provide reassurance.
“These structures are incredibly strong,” he confidently stated as he stood in front of one of the tents on Monday morning. He emphasized that they were specifically designed to withstand even the most severe weather conditions. “There was never a point where they were at risk of collapsing or where anyone’s safety was compromised.”
According to Iscol, there were already evacuation plans in place, but the conditions at the time did not warrant their activation.
According to him, the safety of the residents in this area holds great significance. He acknowledges that having families with children residing at Floyd Bennett Field is not the ideal situation, as recognized by the city. However, they have made the best out of the given situation, thanks to the remarkable efforts of the team.
Children Crying in Hysterics
Despite the commissioner’s attempt to calm their fears, the families staying at Floyd Bennett remained terrified. They had spent a sleepless night and some of them were unable to send their children to school on Monday. Many of them desperately sought to be transferred to a different shelter.
According to a Venezuelan father of three, who preferred to remain anonymous for safety reasons, the children were in a state of hysteria, crying uncontrollably. He explained that they had been awake since 2 a.m. and everyone was incredibly anxious. Fortunately, nothing serious occurred, but at the time, people were unaware of this.
One family reported that despite the tents being generally dry inside, their beds and sheets had become soaked. Upon approaching the staff to address the issue, they were unexpectedly informed that they had the option to leave the shelter.
A Venezuelan mother named Emanuela expressed her frustration, saying, “They told us there was nothing they could do and that we could leave.” Emanuela, who wished to keep her last name anonymous out of fear of reprisals, added, “It’s impossible to sleep on a wet bed, it’s just not feasible.”
They had no other option but to leave Floyd Bennett on the bus in the early morning hours. They braved the winds and rain, with two children in tow, one of whom was running a fever. They made their way back to the Roosevelt Hotel.
“It’s terrible,” she expressed in Spanish.
A 29-year-old mother shared that her family was also forced to leave the shelter along with her two children. This happened after her husband got into a scuffle with security guards.
“We had to leave at six in the morning, amidst the darkness and pouring rain, with our children,” she expressed in Spanish, requesting anonymity out of fear of facing further repercussions. “We were not allowed to stay.”
According to a spokesperson for Mayor Eric Adams, Kayla Mamelak, she refuted the claim that any family was compelled to vacate the shelter during the night.
Not Fit to Live In
In November, the Floyd Bennett Field shelter became available to residents, marking the city’s initial endeavor to accommodate families with children in a “semi-congregate” setting. The shelter consists of four expansive dormitory tents, each divided by plastic walls approximately seven-feet high, which offer families a certain level of privacy. Prior to this, migrant families with children were exclusively placed in individual hotel rooms.
Residents of THE CITY were initially taken aback by the biting cold. According to THE CITY, they had to trek half a mile through a blustery field to reach the nearby bus stop on Flatbush Avenue. In addition, the residents had to venture out into the elements to use the bathroom or visit the dining hall, leaving behind the warmth of the heated tents. Despite being inside these climate-controlled tents, many complained about cold drafts and insufficient blankets, making it challenging to keep their children warm at night.
According to migrants who spoke to THE CITY, numerous additional problems have emerged in the weeks since. It has been reported that children frequently fall ill, experiencing persistent colds, fevers, and coughs. Additionally, residents are provided with cold breakfasts and lunches, and there are only four microwaves available for thousands of people to attempt to warm their meals.
Getting their kids to school on time is a daily challenge for parents, as the designated buses from the shelters tend to fill up quickly. There have been instances where the Q35 bus has passed by migrants without stopping. These are some of the reasons why advocates had warned the city against sending families with children to this setting in the first place.
The storm on Monday only intensified the situation.
A Venezuelan mother of three, who preferred to remain anonymous for fear of reprisal, expressed her concerns about the living conditions in her country. In Spanish, she emphasized, “We’re not searching for problems, but that place is utterly unsuitable for habitation. It truly feels like living in hell.”
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Chaos ensues at Floyd Bennett Field Tent Shelter as migrant families are terrified by heavy winds and rain.