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Judge sides with Staten Island leaders, says asylum seeker shelter at former St. John Villa Academy should close

Judge orders NYC to shut down Staten Island migrant shelter
Judge orders NYC to shut down Staten Island migrant shelter 02:37

NEW YORK -- In a stunning decision, a Staten Island judge ordered Mayor Eric Adams to remove migrants from a controversial shelter, but the city is vowing to appeal, setting up another debate over the city's right to shelter law. 

The decision follows weeks of protest in the residential neighborhood, where Staten Island residents said a migrant shelter just didn't belong. Now a judge has agreed. 

"We couldn't be more pleased, and we'll continue to fight if necessary," Staten Island Borough President Vito Fossella said. 

Fossella said common sense prevailed after Supreme Court Judge Wayne Ozzi issued an injunction to stop the city from using St. John Villa Academy as a shelter for asylum seekers

The ruling followed weeks of angry protests. Staten Islanders opposed to the shelter said it simply does not belong in a residential neighborhood across from a girls school, which put up a huge fence to protect students from the migrants. 

Ironically, the judge took issue with the city's main argument that the city's Right to Shelter Law forced the city to seek space wherever it can find it, including St. John Villa Academy, as it copes with the problem of 116,000 migrants arriving in New York City. 

The judge said the Right to Shelter Law was intended to address a different problem. 

"As different from today's dilemma as night and day. It is an anachronistic relic from the past, an altruistic plan to assist local 'Bowery derelicts,'" the judge wrote. 

Attorney Mark Fonte said the mayor should be happy with the judge's ruling, because Adams is in court trying to get a waiver from the Right to Shelter Law to alleviate some of the burden of finding homes for so many asylum seekers. 

"The devil's in the details, and although this facility might have to be closed, in the long run the mayor may have won by having the judge side with him on his vision of the Right to Shelter decree," Fonte said. "The Right to Shelter decree was envisioned for the homeless people, the vagrants of New York City, not of the world." 

Adams is challenging the judge's decision. In a statement, a spokesperson said the city is appealing the ruling. 

"New Yorkers are tired of shouldering the burden of this nationwide crisis, and we understand their concerns. Since spring 2022, we have processed over 116,000 asylum seekers, with an average of more than 10,000 migrants continuing to arrive every single month asking for shelter. With 210 sites already open, including 17 large-scale humanitarian relief centers, any site we are now finding are the only options left. While not a single family with children has been forced to sleep on the streets in New York City, this ruling jeopardizes our ability to continue providing shelter at that scale. We are taking steps to immediately appeal this ruling, which we believe is incorrect in key respects and which threatens to disrupt efforts to manage this national humanitarian crisis. Instances like this underscore the urgent need for a broader state and national solution, as we've emphasized repeatedly."

"People's hearts are in the right place in trying to help, but we have to be logical and put the taxpayers of this city first and put the emphasis where it belongs, on the federal government," Fossella said. 

It's unclear how many people are still in the shelter. Officials estimate it's about 100, but it can hold as many as 300.

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