NEW YORK - Mayor Eric Adams turned away reporters on Thursday, refusing to answer questions about allegedly firing an aide who raised the alarm about the handling of migrants arriving in New York City.
First reported by NBC4 and confirmed by Fox 5 News, Julia Savel — who was the deputy commissioner of press and communications at the city's Department of Social Services — believes she was fired after trying to shed light on migrants sleeping overnight at the city's Prevention Assistance and Temporary Housing, or PATH, intake center.
New York is a right-to-shelter city, so this is illegal.
According to sources, Social Services Commissioner Gary Jenkins allegedly withheld this information, claiming later he did not know it was illegal for migrants to stay overnight at an intake center. But a report is sent out every day at 4 a.m. to notify social services managers of any violations.
The Legal Aid Society is now calling for an investigation into these allegations.
"These are very vulnerable families, families with young children, families in desperate need," Legal Aid Society staff attorney Judith Harris said, "and the idea that we as a city are letting them spend nights on chairs in a city office without food is really, really terrible."
Jenkins did confirm that at least four migrant families spent the night in a PATH intake center when testifying at a City Council oversight hearing on Tuesday. Jenkins and City Hall both insist this happened only on this one occasion but Legal Aid said it is investigating numerous reports.
"There are city data reports that come out every evening to identify what families this has happened to. Those reports have not been provided to us," Harris said. "So yes, we are concerned that we are just not hearing what's happening there. We're not getting the data and that's why we need an investigation."
Fabien Levy, a spokesperson for the mayor, admitted that the city did not know it was illegal for families to spend the night inside an intake center but pushed back on these allegations.
"Last month, we confirmed that we did not meet that mandate for a handful of families by the required time on one evening," Levy said. "Early that very next morning, Commissioner Jenkins was informed of the issue and immediately informed Deputy Mayor Williams-Isom at City Hall. There was never any intention to delay communication of the issue to anyone at City Hall… We will continue to do the hard and important work to provide shelter to everyone who seeks it, and will abide by both the spirit and the letter of the law."
Levy also said the mayor, who took time to pose next to a new city fleet vehicle at his press conference on Thursday, did not have time to take off-topic questions about these accusations.
A Department of Social Services spokesperson also commented on the allegations.
"As soon as we recognized the formidable pressures that were being placed on our shelter system that led to our inability to meet our mandate for only one night, we quickly worked to examine the situation on the ground to ensure that we were accurately reporting the facts to our stakeholders," the spokesperson said. "We prioritize transparency and accountability in all that we do and continue to learn from every experience as part of a new administration."
Prior administrations that were found in contempt, forcing migrant families to sleep overnight in an intake center, have had to pay fines to these families.