NEW YORK — City Hall has taken steps to help migrants leave New York City by offering them free fare to anywhere in the country or world and made life tougher by limiting shelter stays. Wait times to get a bed can stretch as long as a week.
Some migrants have had enough. Their city of dreams has become a nightmare.
With winter coming, many have reached new lows and levels of desperation and have decided that a one-way ticket out of the Big Apple is their best shot at a brighter future.
Disillusioned migrants, preparing to leave the city, told the Daily News outside the St. Brigid reticketing site in the East Village that they’re disappointed, struggling to find work and fed up with constantly having to move because of a rule put in place in October that limits their time in homeless shelters to just 30 days.
Andres Buitrago’s hopes of finding a version of the American Dream kept him going while he navigated the notorious Darien Gap and traversed hundreds of miles on foot and by train on his monthslong trek to reach the United States.
But after five months in the U.S., Buitrago, 30, decided to cut his losses and turn around — booking a ticket back home to Cali, Colombia.
He found it impossible to find work in New York, and after being kicked out of his shelter, he doesn’t see much of a point to going through the cycle again.
“I didn’t expect this,” Buitrago said. “Because the truth is, I thought there were more job possibilities here than in any other state. I thought that there may be more work, because of the constant flow of people, people from transport, tourism. But work is more limited than I had thought.”
Although he likes the city, the people and the food, he sees no point in staying.
“I didn’t want to leave, because I thought I could find work here, and make a life for myself, but no,” he said. “It’s sad. I have no decision. … If I’m leaving, it’s because, well, I thought I was going to be able to find a job here, to be able to live comfortably, but no."
The vast majority of migrants who are lining up on the street outside the reticketing center are looking for shelter. But a fraction of the thousands of migrants who come through the reticketing site have decided to leave New York, with an estimated 10% taking the free ticket, according to data reported by The City.
Although the center, a former Catholic school, was first opened specifically to send migrants elsewhere, all single adult migrants are now being directed to go there when their stays expire.
When their 30 days are up, migrants must collect their belongings and head to the site, where before they’re reassigned to a new shelter they’re reminded that they have the option to leave New York.
Cristian Peralta, 26, exited St. Brigid with a ticket in hand for Richmond, Va. Peralta had lived in New York City for four months, including two months spent on Randalls Island.
“It isn’t possible to have a stable life here,” Peralta said. “We’re here, and after 30 days we have to go. Well, that day that the 30 days are going to expire is coming soon. And already, I’m desperate, like, I don’t want to sleep on the street. So yes, it’s affecting me. I’m already stressed about it.”
Peralta has a responsibility to send money home to support his 5-year-old son, Thiago — and the little he’s been able to make as a day laborer hasn’t been cutting it.
“I’m happy now because I’m going to leave now and look for a permanent job, stability,” he said. “What I haven’t found here, because it’s been very difficult, I’m hoping it’s there in Virginia.”
Mohammad Cheikh, 27, came to the reticketing center to get a bus ticket to Pittsburgh, where he has a friend waiting for him. Cheikh had been in New York City for a month and a half before deciding to leave.
Cheikh, who came to New York after fleeing his home in Mauritania, said that he is frustrated with the constant movement from one shelter to the next. He’s lived in three shelters in just a month and a half. After receiving yet another 30-day notice, he decided to call it quits.
“I’ve just been there for a few days, and they just gave a notice that we have to leave in a month,” he said dashing off to the Port Authority Bus Terminal to catch his bus. “So that’s why I contacted my friend in Pennsylvania. I’m tired of this system. I’m moving like every two weeks, or every month. So that’s why I decided to leave.”
Many migrants haven’t yet decided to leave, but are hanging on by a thread.
Jose Antonio Villegas has been shunted back and forth between the reticketing center and shelters in Queens and on Randalls Island.
Not always able to get a bed each night, he’s taken to sleeping on the subway. Villegas, 26, guessed that over the past couple of months, he’s spent around 20 nights sleeping in the trains. As winter sets in, he’s not sure how much longer he can do this.
“Yes, of course I think about leaving [New York],” he said. “You can’t rest very well. … Sometimes the MTA workers tell me I can’t be there, and I have to get out of the subway. It’s dangerous. I’m not sure how much longer I want to do this.”