NEW YORK (PIX11) — The telltale signs of a rough stretch in someone’s life were on full display underneath the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, including a sleeping bag and various other personal items that were scattered on the ground.
William Montilla, a 24-year-old asylum seeker from Venezuela, said he arrived in the United States four months ago.
Montilla said several other men initially assigned to a nearby homeless shelter now routinely choose to sleep outside under the highway due to overcrowding and security concerns inside the shelter.
“Because it’s not safe and because of the space in there. This is not right because people did not want to be robbed. They want safety and security,” Montilla said through a translator.
The men may not belong to New York City’s traditional “pre-asylum seeker crisis” street homeless population, but many share a sense of desperation and hopelessness.
City officials said they continue to search for housing alternatives and plea for additional federal aid.
Meanwhile, New York City’s shelter system and the Roosevelt Hotel intake center remain at full capacity.
“It’s not a good thing. We have to step up and provide more shelter for these people. You can’t be living here under the [Brooklyn-Queens Expressway], living on the street. It’s kind of depressing,” said Steve Estrada, who works nearby.
As the seasons change, Theodore Moore of the New York Immigration Coalition, said the city government and its non-profit community will collectively need to work together to address an exploding street homeless population, especially as more asylum seekers join their ranks.
“As we get colder, we worry about the harsh winters. That solution includes more funding from the federal government for housing and everything. We need supportive housing. We need mental health support. We need education support,” said Moore.
Montilla grew emotional while discussing the families members who he and so many other young men left behind.
“I have a 6-year-old boy and a 2-year-old girl, and my wife is from Venezuela. We moved here for our future,” said Montilla.
Residents in the neighborhood said as recently as a couple of weeks ago, there were full-blown homeless tent encampments set up under the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. It’s unclear if the people living in them willingly moved along or were pushed out by the city.
But what we’re seeing now — and it’s not a new phenomenon — is that people will pack up their belongings during the day to avoid drawing attention and set up tents and other belongings at night. It’s a routine that certainly becomes more difficult as it gets colder.