Press Statements

VOCAL-NY Responds to Death of an Asylum Seeker and Wards Island Resident, Calls Out Overcrowding in NYC Shelters

September 19, 2022

CONTACT: Joseph Loonam,, 347 409 4650


VOCAL-NY and Allies Called on the Mayor and City Council to House People by Reforming the CityFHEPs Program

See Op-Ed From VOCAL-NY Leader Who is Undocumented and Calling for CityFHEPs Reform

NEW YORK — Today, there was news a woman seeking asylum in New York City died by suicide while living in one of the city’s shelters, and a firsthand account from a VOCAL-NY leader that a resident of a Wards Island, a HelpUSA shelter, was left unattended for 24 hours and eventually found to have died by a suspected overdose. In response, VOCAL-NY released the following statement:

“I’m not surprised this can happen in our system when the shelter staff ignore protocols that keep us safe and we die as a result,” said Douglas Powell, a leader with VOCAL-NY’s Homelessness Union who is currently living in a shelter. “Shelters are overcrowded because the city is not helping people get housed with their vouchers. I got a voucher, found an apartment, signed a lease and I’m still here. Keeping folks trapped in shelters is a human rights abuse, but the shelter system does not even treat us like humans because we’re homeless.”


In recent weeks, asylum seekers have entered New York City’s broken shelter system, with little promise of permanent, safe housing. This morning, news broke that a recent asylum seeker died by suicide in a DHS shelter. A few hours later, a VOCAL-NY Homelessness Union leader on Wards Island reported that his friend and neighbor died over the weekend and left for 24 hours after what he suspects was an overdose. 

Lack of enforcement against discriminatory landlords, as well as bureaucratic hurdles within DHS, are preventing tens of thousands of New Yorkers from leaving shelters in the midst of a capacity and affordability crisis. Without adequate resources, shelter workers cannot provide life saving services amidst this kind of chaos, putting lives in even more danger.

This discrimination can be seen in the Emergency Housing Vouchers (EHV) provided by the federal government. Only 35% of those who received rental assistance from the Federal government through the EHV program have been able to sign a lease. This an embarrassing figure for the Adams administration, who claims rehousing is a top priority.

By reforming the CityFHEPs program and expanding its availability to all New Yorkers, the City can transition people out of our overburdened shelter system and into long-term, permanent housing. See a list of reforms VOCAL-NY and allies called for from the Mayor and City Council to accommodate the influx of people seeking asylum and being sent to NYC shelters.


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