Community Dialogue: Migrants and Volunteers Address Clinton Hill Residents on New Shelter Complex

enee Collymore speaks during press conference across the street from migrant shelter in Clinton Hill.Photo: Sonia Zinkin-Meyers.

By: Megan McGibney

So far, when residents have voiced their opinion about the two adjoining emergency shelters that is housing almost 4,000 asylum seekers in Clinton Hill, there were never any migrants there to listen. On Thursday, however, the two groups had a chance to have a sometimes tense, but open dialogue.

When about 30 local residents gathered for an outdoor press conference directly across the street from the Hall Street shelter to urge the city to better manage the shelter complex, dozens of migrants and volunteers from nonprofits, who were already outdoors, gathered at the curb to watch. A few even crossed the street to get a better view.

Mary Chang, who has lived in Clinton Hill for 74 years called the situation a “leadership crisis,” adding while she supports the migrants, she believes the shelter is unsafe.

“People have been accusing shelter protestors of being “NIMBYs” [Not in my backyard],” she said. “The correct term should be NIABY – not in anybody’s backyard. Our city must do better.”

Others who spoke at the press conference mentioned the impact on real estate and home values, brawls happening in parks, panhandling, and the economic strain of the migrant crisis on the city, including how many asylum seekers were living in hotels, instead of the rooms going to tourists.

Some wondered why migrants were not being sent to other Brooklyn locations, or even the rest of the state, such as Long Island and Albany.

“They’re nice people but they’re miserable,” said Renee Collymore, the Democratic Liaison for the 57th Assembly District. “We need to reduce the size of the shelters. This is a badly structured plan. The neighbors have to be cared for as well. There’s empathy for migrants, but also the neighbors.”

Collymore, who organized the press conference, called the situation a “humanitarian crisis,” adding that it was not good for the mental health of both the migrants and the residents. She said the migrants live in cramped conditions and believes tempers are flaring, one that resulted in a stabbing outside of the shelter complex earlier this month.

That said, as the press conference wrapped up, residents listened to what some asylum seekers and volunteers had to say. Some migrants who spoke with BK Reader did so through translators and broken English, but still made it clear they wanted to find work.

“We came here for a better life,” noted Hassan Manfaa, who said he was from northern Africa. “We didn’t come here for fighting, we didn’t come here to steal from anybody, we came here for a purpose. We came here for work. This protest is a right for everyone here, but for me, in my opinion, most people here didn’t come for problems.”

Kate Cunningham, a local resident and mutual aid volunteer, explained that during the last town hall, a representative from the Mayor’s Office talked about how difficult it is to find new space, something people in a high-income place like Clinton Hill may not be used to.

“Everybody wants better conditions, everybody wants better food, more services, everybody’s on the same page,” she said. “[These are] thrivers, survivors, much stronger than many of us.”

Collymore also spoke of a plan to obtain emergency funding for programs at the Brooklyn Masonic Temple, where the migrants would take English classes. A nearby daycare center, Little Sun People, is working on taking in children so they would not sell candy on the streets, she said.

“They are not prisoners,” Collymore said of the asylum seekers. “These are our people now. Give them the opportunity to build community.”

Additional reporting contributed by Sonia Zkinkin-Meyers

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