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Inspection finds more than 70 migrants living in basement of Queens furniture store

Over 70 migrants found living in basement of Queens furniture store
Over 70 migrants found living in basement of Queens furniture store 02:19

NEW YORK -- During an FDNY inspection on Monday night, dozens of migrants were found living in a Queens basement.

CBS New York spoke with the man who says he was helping them.

They were staying in the basement of a Richmond Hill furniture store on Liberty Avenue. The owner said more than 70 people were living down there and some of them were paying him $300 per month to help with food and to maintain the place.

Cellphone video shows the basement filled with cots and migrants.

"They say there's no places to put the people. I've been going around the city and saw all the buildings that they are building. I've talked to landlords. People were saying these buildings are for the city, and city is saying they don't have no place for these people? It's not true," said Ebou Sarr, owner of Sarr's Wholesale Furniture.

Sarr was in tears as he explained he wanted to help his fellow Africans because the city wasn't. He said they came to him after their 30-day shelter stay expired.

"The guys would be sleeping on street for days, so when they started coming to me and telling me their stories, I started helping them," Sarr said. "Since they aren't giving them place to stay, we will do this ourselves."

On Tuesday afternoon, there was a slew of police and investigators with the Department of Buildings in the back of the building, along with dozens of e-bikes.

"There's no cooking, okay? We will bring food, no cooking here. When you come, I'll make you sign an agreement that this is the rules here. You can't do this over here because we don't want problems," Sarr said.

According to the DOB, inspectors were called to the two-story mixed-use building on 132nd Street and Liberty Avenue on Monday night to investigate reports of an illegal conversion. Down in the cellar, they found illegally converted sleeping quarters with 14 bunk beds and 13 beds and inadequate plumbing and ventilation. A full vacate order was issued.

"We have an obligation with DOB and FDNY and all of our services to respond and take necessary action. That's what was done last night, and we're still looking at what exactly took place," Mayor Eric Adams said.

The mayor added there are people in the city who will try to take advantage of the system.

Watch Jennifer Bisram's report

Inspection finds dozens of migrants living in basement of Queens furniture store 03:08

CBS New York was told the migrants were brought to shelters after they were evacuated, but several said while picking up their belongings they still have nowhere to go.

"Last night, I sleep in the subway," one person said.

"We are going to Manhattan to try to go to a shelter," a migrant named Milick said.

"So proud of these people. That's why this breaks my heart. They are hard-working people," Sarr said.

CBS New York's Ali Bauman spoke to Power Malu, an immigration advocate and volunteer who helps migrants in the city.

"This was one instance of this. How many do you think there are around the city?" Bauman asked.

"Oh, there are hundreds ... They have no choice but to try to find an option, and right now, the option is to try to find a place where they can actually lay their head and feel safe," Malu said.

After migrants are evicted from shelters, it takes the city about a week to place them somewhere new. In that time, they can sleep at a city-run holding center, some of which don't even have mattresses.

"If people are going there because they have nowhere else to go after getting kicked out after 30 days, does that mean the 30-day rule isn't working for the city?" Bauman asked City Emergency Management Commission Zach Iscol.

"Well, look, we've had to make-- first off, the 30-day rule is working and we've seen that it works," Iscol said.

City Hall says of all the adult migrants forced to leave shelters after 30 days, 25% have returned to the shelter system.

"Many of them have left the city, some are staying in the city, some have found places to live. We are also in a housing crisis, which makes this worse, but again, the city can't house people indefinitely," Iscol said.

"Well, guess what, the ones that you're saying that have moved out are now living in dangerous conditions, unfortunately," Malu said.

The Queens building owner was given two violations, which could cost them up to $50,000.

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