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Venezuelan migrant at new Long Island City shelter here to work for better life, as enraged locals fear for vitality of neighborhood

Yohandri Arevalo, pictured second from the right, with his family outside the Collective Paper Factory, a hotel in Long Ialsn City that was recently converted into a shelter (Photo by Michael Dorgan)

Yohandri Arevalo, pictured second from the right, with his family outside the Collective Paper Factory, a hotel in Long Island City that was recently converted into a shelter (Photo by Michael Dorgan)

Aug. 16, 2023 By Michael Dorgan

An economic migrant who recently moved into an upscale Long Island City hotel-turned-shelter says he wants to work hard to give his family a better life while local residents and business owners, who are empathetic to his plight, say the opening of the new facility marks a massive backward step for the desirable neighborhood.

Yohandri Arevalo, 32, says he and his young family arrived in America on July 4, having made the treacherous journey from Venezuela where — among other extremely difficult terrains — they had to navigate a brutal jungle area called the Darien Gap which is situated along the border of Colombia and Panama.

Arevalo said he paid armed Colombia Guerrillas around $5,000 for help with the journey before the family eventually ended up at the Collective Paper Factory, a former swanky four-star hotel located at 37-06 36th St. that opened as a shelter for economic migrants last week. The shelter is expected to house around 500 migrants — most of whom crossed the southern border illegally — by the end of the summer.

“It was not easy, it was six days through the jungle, and we had to climb mountain after mountain after mountain,” Arevalo told the Queens/LIC Post in Spanish and translated into English by a translator. “We were hungry, thirsty and sleeping on the ground in a tent. Along with the other migrants who came with us, we all went hungry, and we couldn’t sleep worrying about our children being kidnapped or raped. But thank God today I’m here in New York. Thank you.”

Arevalo is married with two sons — ages 8 and 14 — along with a 9-year-old daughter. He is one of nearly 100,000 economic migrants that have come through the city’s intake system since the spring of 2022.

A small number of them have applied for asylum, and Arevalo said he wants to apply for asylum, but cannot afford the lawyer fees to do so.

Arevalo and his family were previously staying at a Manhattan hotel-turned-shelter before being placed at the Collective Paper Factory at the end of last week. When operating as a hotel the establishment had a gym, several meeting rooms, communal spaces, and a bar/restaurant on the ground floor.

 

A Long Island City Hotel called The Paper Factory has been converted into a shelter to house economic migrants (Photo by Michael Dorgan)

A Long Island City Hotel called The Paper Factory has been converted into a shelter to house economic migrants (Photo by Michael Dorgan)

Long Island City migrant shelter (Photo by Michael Dorgan)

Long Island City migrant shelter (Photo by Michael Dorgan)

A Long Island City Hotel called The Paper Factory has been converted into a shelter to house economic migrants (Photo by Michael Dorgan)

A Long Island City Hotel called The Paper Factory has been converted into a shelter to house economic migrants (Photo by Michael Dorgan)

Arevalo spoke to Queens/LIC Post outside the 125-room facility on Monday, Aug. 14, where his 8- and 9-year-old children were happily playing on the sidewalk with several other kids from the shelter. His eldest son was inside, while his wife was outside the shelter speaking with two other couples who said they, too, were from Venezuela.

Most of the migrants the Queens/LIC Post attempted to speak with said they were from Mexico or Venezuela, while others appeared to be of Asian descent. One man, who was with his pregnant partner and their son, said they were from Mongolia.

None of the migrants appeared to be able to speak English.

“I don’t understand English very well, but I’m going to learn it,” said Arevalo, who added that he made the decision to come to the United States after hearing on the news that the country was minding migrants once they arrived.

Arevalo said he is looking for work, but he does not have a New York City-issued ID, which is proving to be a hindrance. He previously worked on his family’s farm growing yucca and bananas while he can also cook, paint and complete gardening tasks.

“By God’s mercy … I’m already looking for work, although people tell me no because they don’t know me.”

This interview was translated into English by Camille Botello

A Long Island City Hotel called The Paper Factory has been converted into a shelter to house economic migrants (Photo by Michael Dorgan)

A Long Island City Hotel called The Paper Factory has been converted into a shelter to house economic migrants (Photo by Michael Dorgan)

A Long Island City Hotel called The Paper Factory has been converted into a shelter to house economic migrants (Photo by Michael Dorgan)

A Long Island City Hotel called The Paper Factory has been converted into a shelter to house economic migrants (Photo by Michael Dorgan)

Meanwhile, one longtime local resident, who said she wishes to remain anonymous, said that the economic migrants were calling into various businesses throughout the neighborhood over the weekend looking for work.

Another woman, who has lived at the adjacent The Silver Star apartment building since it opened in 2018, says she is not happy about the shelter opening and is already looking to break her rental contract in order to move out of the area.

“I’m really upset. It took us by surprise and we’ve had no time to process or prepare for this. All of a sudden, our lives have changed completely, from day to night,” said the woman, who did not want to provide her name and was out walking her dog. “People are anxious. People are nervous about what it’s going to be like when it’s full at the end of the summer.”

The Silver Star tenant was also unhappy about the lack of notice given by the city.

A spokesperson for Council Member Julie Won told the Queens/LIC Post last week that throughout the crisis, the city has not notified elected officials before commercial hotel shelter sites opened in their respective districts. The mayor’s office told the Queens/LIC Post that it is unable to disclose information on locations of migrant shelter sites due to state law on social services, although it can provide information on the 13 large-scale emergency relief sites that are open, such as those at Creedmoor Psychiatric Center in eastern Queens and at Randall’s Island.

“We’re concerned about the garbage, the people loitering, there’s been no security measures and there’s just been no communication from anybody about how all this will go,” the Silver Star tenant said. “We don’t know who they are, where they are coming from, how long they will be here or how long this will be a migrant sanctuary.”

Her comments follow those of The Silver Star’s owner Michael Cohen, who told the Queens/LIC Post last week that he was appalled about the decision to open the hotel as a shelter and said the shelter will not be good for the local economy.

Cohen’s comments appear to be ringing true already as Manuel Roman, who manages a deli across the street from the hotel called All American Coffee Shop, said his business is already down 50% in revenue since the shelter opened.

Roman, who moved to New York from Mexico 30 years ago, said that a large portion of his customers were guests at the hotel. He said that that customer base has now been wiped out since none of the new migrants at the hotel purchase items at the deli.

“I know they are humans, but they have put my business down 50 percent,” said Roman, who noted that three people work at the deli. “I have to pay rent. I have to pay Con-Ed — I have to pay everything; I have to support my family. I work very hard from 4:30 in the morning to seven o’clock at night … we work every single day to survive.”

Roman said he now needs financial assistance from the city, given the circumstances.

“Give me a hand,” he said.

A Long Island City Hotel called The Paper Factory has been converted into a shelter to house economic migrants (Photo by Michael Dorgan)

A Long Island City Hotel called The Paper Factory has been converted into a shelter to house economic migrants (Photo by Michael Dorgan)

A Long Island City Hotel called The Paper Factory has been converted into a shelter to house economic migrants (Photo by Michael Dorgan)

A man plays with his child outside the shelter (Photo by Michael Dorgan)

Meanwhile, Edwin Mercado, an Astoria resident, said he is against the housing of migrants in the city and across the country. The Astoria boundary runs along 37th Avenue, which the side of the hotel faces.

“I don’t think that the federal government should be arresting and releasing them into the country. I think they should be deporting them right back to where they came from,” Mercado said. “This is a very nice neighborhood and they are unemployed — they are illegal.”

Many elected officials have been saying that all economic migrants should be housed and fed, but Mercado said he disagrees with that stance.

“I think that their position is not helping because it’s costing the city a lot of money,” Mercado said.

The cost to the taxpayer to house and feed the new arrivals is now expected to hit $12 billion by the summer of 2025.

“These politicians, it’s all about what gets them votes,” Mercado said. “They don’t care how they get the votes and they don’t care that they’re damaging the city.”

He said that lawmakers are putting the needs of migrants ahead of citizens, as well as legal immigrants who often have to wait in line to secure visas and/or work permits before they can legally enter, or work in the country.

Mercado said he had called Won’s office to express his anger about the new shelter and spoke to a member of her staff. Won represents District 26 which covers Long Island City, parts of Astoria, Sunnyside and Woodside. Her office told the Queens/LIC Post last week that there are more than 30 migrant shelters in the district.

“I expressed how I feel, that this is a nice neighborhood and they’re ruining a nice neighborhood,” Mercado said. “They’re getting everything for free and everyone else has to work and they just want to keep taxing us.”

(Photo by Michael Dorgan)

Manuel Roman, who manages a deli across the street from the hotel called All American Coffee Shop (Photo by Michael Dorgan)

A Long Island City Hotel called The Paper Factory has been converted into a shelter to house economic migrants (Photo by Michael Dorgan)

A Long Island City Hotel called The Paper Factory has been converted into a shelter to house economic migrants (Photo by Michael Dorgan)

A shopping cart was tied to a tree by one of the migrants (Photo by Michael Dorgan)

Long Island City migrant shelter (Photo by Michael Dorgan)

Two pairs of children’s sneakers on a window ledge at the facility (Photo by Michael Dorgan)

A family across the street from the shelter (Photo by Michael Dorgan)

A Long Island City Hotel called The Paper Factory has been converted into a shelter to house economic migrants (Photo by Michael Dorgan)

The Paper Factory previously had a bar/restaurant on its ground floor (Photo by Michael Dorgan)

email the author: news@queenspost.com

23 Comments

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MRLIC

Adams is wrong. NYC RIGHT TO SHELTER WAS. REALLY MEANT FOR HOMRLESS NEW YORKERS, NOT ILLEGAL IIMMIGRANTS GETTING A FREE RIDE ON THE PUBLC DIME !

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Alex

I do understand that some will come here and will really work hard to make a life but there are others that are doing nothing but taking advantage of the system, those freeloaders will need to be sent back. Those are the ones that aren’t wanted in their own country and are here breaking the laws and doing as they are fit. Those abusing the system, those freeloaders with the latest Apple devices, those with the most expensive sneakers, those need to be sent back. Don’t know how the whole court proceeding will go but those aren’t asylum seekers but illegal immigrants that have broken the law by coming to the NY don’t deserve any asylum.

Can’t wait for the next president to fix this.

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old as dirt

while the family interviewed might be legit in their intentions, how long to they & others think, we the people who are paying for their “minding”, are going to tolerate..on one hand you can feel bad as i think they are being bs’d majorly..Venezuela might be a hell hole but there is no war going on – bottom line they are here ILLEGALLY & while some will eventually get jobs, they will be living in the shadows forever & passing that fate on to their kids

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Sara Ross

I’m a native New Yorker and I have never seen this city where I rarely hear English spoken – ANYWHERE! New York is located in the United States of America which on every map is located in NORTH AMERICA. I feel like I’m in living in South America, Europe, Asia and Africa. I see immigrants spending over $200 in groceries with government cards – WIC, SNAP, Food Stamps and on and on. My grandparents came here through Ellis Island on a boat (not a luxury liner) and they had to be healthy – physically and mentally – proven by taking tests; there were no social programs. They had to have a job and a place to live or they were sent back. How do we know what diseases these people have? I doubt if they’ve been vaccinated for anything. It angers me beyond words when I call Access A Ride (for my mother), and the NYS and Federal tax agencies and the first thing I hear is “for English press 1”. Whoever came up with that, is insulting every man and woman who has fought and is fighting (not to mention made the ultimate sacrifice) for this country. Also if you are given the right to vote, you shouldn’t need to have a sign in every language that says “vote here”. Same thing with the DMV permit test. Signs are in ENGLISH not every other dam language on the planet!

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Annab

Send all the hard-working people back! Send the people who want to work hard to help our community back! Send the women and children back! Let’s protest anyone coming here to make a living! No hard-working people! Just say no!

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Caucasian Rascal

Can someone please explain to me how im every picture I’ve seen these migrants from supposedly impoverished countries always have clean clothes, clean shoes and fully charged phones? Tricycles, baby carriahes, and brand new igloo coolers? You would think one would look haggard and dirty crossing a “treacherous “jungle but the border pictures I’ve seen all show people in flip flops looking like they got off a Delta flight at LaGuardia. Obviously food on the journey isnt a problem as most of tbe women are morbidly obese and one jelly donut away from a diabetic coma. We are being lied to on an epic scale here.

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Robert Tishman

New York City is being destroyed day by day it’s getting worse and worse! The city is putting the needs of illegal migrants ahead of our citizens! We are allowing people from all different countries without any proper vetting this is incredibly disgusting! Our mayor and Governor are a complete joke!

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Carmen

The Biden Administration is a joke. They are not seriously addressing the border or ignoring it completely. All the chaos. How can this be good for the migrants and tax paying citizens and legal residents?

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Turn the buses around

Now do a piece on all the drunk asylum seekers urinating under the subway el. All the drunk new arrivals roaming the neighborhood and sleeping on the benches on Queens Blvd. Do a story of a naive and foolish mayor who went down to Texas and invited a crisis that’s going to cost out city billions.

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WOODSIDE4LIFE

WHERE IS THE PROTESTS ?? WHY CAN LIC SUNNYSIDE AND WOODSIDE JOIN TOGETHER TO PROTEST THIS !

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Carmen

Because LIC Sunnyside and Woodside residents are left leaning liberals who have wanted this.

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Carmen

And they keep voting for the same people Gianaris, AOC, Nydia Velasquez, Hochul, and none of them want to risk being called a racist. When It’s not about race. This is not sustainable or fair to tax paying citizens and legal residents. But the migrants, in their interviews, heard the good news, the borders are open and so here we are. Very Sad!

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