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Community News: Reflection on Visit to The Roosevelt Hotel

“We have been waiting here for days. We are hungry. We are thirsty.” 

That’s what we heard on Sunday when several First Church members went together after the worship service to the Roosevelt Hotel to meet the migrants who have just arrived to the city. 

It is not, as many news outlets and city officials have called it, an “immigration crisis.” This is part of a larger housing crisis that has been happening in our city for years, and what’s happening now is a crisis of hospitality: migrants who are arriving in New York City in search of safety and new opportunities are waiting in the heat for days just to get enrolled in the city’s services.  

One of the hallmarks of hospitality in New York City is our “right to shelter,” a mandate from 1981 that guaranteed shelter for men and has since been expanded to include women and families. Hospitality is inscribed in our city’s policy, but what is happening right now is anything but hospitable.  


Here’s what’s happening currently:  
  • Families being removed from the shelters where they had been staying for reasons they don’t understand 
  • Migrants have been sleeping on the sidewalk outside the Roosevelt Hotel for several days (including last week during the heat wave) 
  • Mayor Adams has said that there is no more room 
When we arrived at the Roosevelt Hotel around 1:30 p.m. on Sunday afternoon,  we went and talked to the migrants who were waiting on the sidewalk. We identified ourselves as coming from a church and asked what they needed.   They asked if we knew of any other places they could find shelter. We told them this was, unfortunately, the primary intake center. They said then that they were hungry and thirsty. We had brought some water and protein bars, and we went a couple of blocks away and bought 8 pizzas, some doughnuts, and more water. We returned to the line and gave away everything in about five minutes.   The city provides some food to people waiting, but the migrants said that there wasn’t enough, and they were still hungry but couldn’t get out of line. We handed the food we brought to a few migrants in line and they distributed it among themselves.   It can feel like such a small and insignificant gesture in the face of overwhelming need. And yet, we are called to offer hospitality and welcome where we can. We do what we can with the resources we have, we join with others who have already been doing this work, we use our voices to advocate for larger changes, and we trust that the Spirit will move as we work together.  Here’s what we can do right now as a congregation:  
  1. First Church has already begun conversations about using our building as a shelter for asylum seekers (likely LGBTQ asylum seekers) as part of a program of the mayor’s office. This is one way we can directly serve migrants who are coming to New York and meet a few people’s immediate need for shelter with dignity and respect. If you’d like to learn more about this possibility, learn how it’s different than the previous shelter at First Church, and ask questions, we are entering into a period of congregational discernment about this possible ministry. The first open conversation and info session will be on Wednesday, August 9th, at 12 p.m. on Zoom. Follow the link here to join.  
  2. We will also continue to take food and provide aid when we can to folks who are waiting for shelter.  
  3. Finally, we must use our voices to advocate for longer-term solutions like FHEPS vouchers to help people move out of shelters to long-term housing.  
If you want to be directly involved in any of those efforts, please let me know ([email protected]). Things are changing daily, and I will work to keep you updated about what’s going on and opportunities for us to connect with and serve our new neighbors.  Our faith commands that we welcome the immigrant. First Church has already declared itself a Matthew 25 Church, which means we know that Christ continues to show up in the world and has told us that when we welcome the stranger and give clothes to those who need them, we welcome and clothe Christ (Matthew 25:38-40). May it be so. May we do so.