Homelessness and the Migrant Crisis: Three Unanswered Questions

Network Talks: Josiah Haken

We recently relaunched Network Talks, a series of conversations around topics that are top-of-mind for New Yorkers. We invited our affiliate partners, church partners, and supporters to be educated around the important topic of Homelessness and the Migrant Crisis in NYC.

The main part of our program included a conversation between Josiah Haken, CEO, City Relief and Rev. David Lee, Redeemer Downtown, on the state of homelessness in our city. Josiah shared how important it was to remember the three C's of caring for our unhoused neighbors: Have compassion, build connection, and lean into community. (Watch the full conversation here.)

At our event, we also asked attendees to submit questions. Read the three most frequently asked questions, which Josiah took time to answer below. We hope this additional information further underscores the challenges that our newly arrived immigrant neighbors face, and inspires you to continue giving, serving, and praying.


What are the resources and opportunities being offered by the city (and nonprofits) to help migrants find employment?

Finding and securing employment is one of the most urgent needs that our newly arrived neighbors need, and frankly, want. The challenges of accessing work authorization permits for immigrants and asylum seekers are immense. The Adams administration has made efforts to identify as many people as possible who are eligible to apply for "parole" which would enable them to legally apply for work authorization: "As of Tuesday, September 12, the city had assessed over 10,000 adult asylum seekers in its care to see if they are eligible to work legally in the United States and will continue this effort over the coming weeks."

There is a federal requirement that asylum seekers have a mandatory 150 day waiting period before being authorized to apply for work authorization. There are some countries that have been granted TPS (Temporary Protected Status) from which migrants and asylum seekers can pursue work authorization right away. Currently, these countries include El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras, Nepal, Nicaragua, and Sudan. Venezuela was recently granted TPS for 18 months, which includes two processes that include first-time registrations and re-registrations for migrants who have been residing in the U.S. since July 2023. The process is multi-layered and complicated.

Ultimately, the best way for us to help our newly arrived neighbors land on their feet is to continue to advocate for faster legal pathways for work authorization. Many of the people that City Relief is meeting on the streets either don’t understand the process or don’t have anyone who can explain their rights in their native language.

If you happen to speak Spanish, French, Arabic, or any other foreign language, your skills are desperately needed right now. If you happen to be an immigration attorney and would be willing to help some of our new neighbors apply for asylum or make sure they are doing everything they can to move the process forward, that would also be extremely helpful right now. If you are an employer who can accommodate employees who don't speak English, it would be amazing if you could connect with the agencies where these folks are being processed, in case there are people who have been granted work authorization and just need a place to start. Many folks are also taking jobs making deliveries, so one of the best things you can do is tip well and express appreciation for the people who drop off your groceries or take out.


How are churches in the five boroughs responding to the migrant crisis? How can we partner together to form a collective impact in how we aid and inspire?

Churches are really stepping up in a big way to respond to the migrant crisis. But there are always ways to improve. One of the biggest needs right now are for communities of faith to offer services in different languages. If you are a member of a church that is primarily English speaking, you could build a relationship with another local faith community that offers services in Spanish.

Churches can also advocate for the dignity of the newly arrived asylum seekers and migrants through building relationships with those who are being moved from place to place. Churches could collect cell phones, Metro cards, winter clothing, or grocery store gift cards and share those items with specific hotels or shelters where migrants are being placed.

This volume of people who need help is way too large for one church community to take on by itself. This crisis requires collaboration, and what better way for Christians to reveal the substance of our convictions than to work together to serve the unhoused and migrant community? Jesus prayed for us to be "one" in John 17, and he also said that the world will know that we are his disciples by the way we love each other! We need to lead by example, not by exclamation. Communities of faith will need to work together across denominational and cultural lines if we are going to make a difference in this crisis and inspire others to see their fellow human beings through the lens of faith and not fear.


How do we shift our mindset and balance ways to care practically for both new migrant families and homeless people who were already here?

Homelessness is growing across the board. There are currently about 90,000 homeless New Yorkers in Department of Homeless Services shelters. This is up from 48,000 just two short years ago. While some of these individuals are newly arrived immigrants with nowhere to stay, the exact breakdown of how many were here before the first wave of arrivals from the southern border is unclear. Many of the newly arrived immigrants are also being tracked in different systems of care, which include the Department of Health & Human Services (H&H), NYC office of Emergency Management (NYCEM), the Department of Housing Preservation & Development (HPD), and the Department of Youth & Community Development (DYCD). What we do know is that increased numbers of post-pandemic evictions, domestic violence placements, and people being released from incarceration all point to homelessness getting worse.

The whiplash of economic factors in a post-pandemic world continue to negatively impact thousands of people. The government is trying to help as many people as possible at the same time. But the truth is that finite resources are leading to stretched budgets and burnt-out case workers. As billions of dollars are being allocated to address the migrant crisis, agencies that serve low-income residents are being cut back. The most important thing we can do is offer people grace and try not to play into the "us" vs. "them" mindset that creates division and violence as people compete for limited resources. You can advocate for newly arrived immigrants and homeless veterans without pitting one against the other. Homeless people are still people regardless of their country of origin or their immigration status.

Please continue to find ways to engage and care for people in shelters or on streets who are all around you. Sign up to volunteer through Hope for New York with an affiliate who is actively serving struggling communities and individuals. Find ways to financially support organizations that align with your calling and passions. We can't all do everything to help everyone, but each of us can do something to help someone in need.