Tens of thousands of migrants have found their way to New York City in the past year, seeking safety and opportunities, and finding emergency shelter. This includes many families who have been living for months in hotel shelters.
In response to the unprecedented situation, The Children’s Village has partnered with the NYC Department of Homeless Services to bring the organization’s expertise working with families to the migrant crisis. Since this spring, a unique program has popped up in three hotel shelters across the city, for 2-3 months at a time, in order to provide families with an opportunity to relocate and start a new life.
“We find that what families really want is access to information, and unfortunately that is not something they get in a shelter, which is designed as just a place to get a room and food,” said Ed Reyes, Director of Family Initiatives, The Children’s Village Inwood House Division. “We are here to open doors for them and help them figure out the next step for them and their families.”
Reyes’s fully bilingual team includes multiple caseworkers, a family engagement specialist and a travel coordinator. They partner with a lawyer that meets with each family involved with the program, in order to advise them on their potential asylum case.
While the goal of this specific initiative is to identify and support families who want to relocate, particularly outside of New York City, the comprehensive program brings a whole host of benefits to the hotel shelters while on site.
The team spreads the word about The Children’s Village by hosting workshops about “know your rights”, the risks of human trafficking and sex work, navigating the benefits system, and more, as well as hosting fun activities for kids, who otherwise don’t have the chance to connect with each other in the shelter. The team also distributes hygiene kits, including diapers and menstrual products, in order to meet families’ basic needs. Through this process, they build trust with residents of the building, who then seek them out to explore their options to leave shelter.
By embedding the program inside individual hotel shelters, The Children’s Village is reducing barriers to accessing legal services as well as the relocation program. Every family who engages gets free legal advice on site, while their children have a safe place to play just outside the room. The same goes for when the families discuss their options with their case managers.
If a family is a good fit to move—if they have family or friends, or a job waiting in another place—the team’s travel coordinator starts making plans while their situation is vetted by the case manager. The program funds all transit costs and luggage, and makes sure families have any paperwork they need to travel.
As soon as the family engagement specialist knows where the family will relocate to, they put together the resource package specific to the zip code. When the family arrives, they will already have a list of the nearest hospital, DMV, benefits office, school their child will enroll in, and more, so that they can access the resources they need in their new community. The Children’s Village team follows up with the family a week after moving, and again after three months, to make sure they feel supported in the transition.
As of August, the program had served over 300 families, offered over 200 legal consultations, provided more than 80 workshops, and relocated nearly 30 families—a total of 600+ interactions across three hotel shelters. But the impact goes far beyond the numbers.
“Families have told us again and again that they feel seen, heard, and respected,” said Reyes. “That’s the key to our program—it’s all about dignity and respect.”