A group of migrant families walked out of their Sheepshead Bay shelter in an impromptu protest of the food provided there, which they say has sickened several people and resulted in emergency room visits. 

Within about an hour of eating meals of chicken and rice Tuesday evening, several children began throwing up on site. Adults who inspected the remaining food found it emitting a gut-wrenching odor, several told THE CITY.

“It was green and slimy,” José Meneses, 34, told THE CITY over the phone during the impromptu demonstration in the motel parking lot on Tuesday night. He spoke in Spanish, as did all the migrants quoted here.

While multiple people had said they’d been sickened by the shelter food with bouts of diarrhea and vomiting in the month since they’ve been living at the Bayview Inn Motel on Emmons Avenue in Sheepshead Bay, Tuesday’s dinner was the last straw.

“Today we decided to raise our voices,” Meneses said that evening. “One time, fine, two times, three times, four, five times, until today. Why is the food bad again? No one is listening to us.”

About two dozen adults and children joined the informal demonstration, later reentering the hotel to confront hotel workers about the situation, in a back-and-forth that lasted close to an hour. A staff member responded at one point that if they didn’t like the situation, they could request a transfer to another shelter.

“If we didn’t like it we could leave,” said José Gregorio. “We could eat what was there. It doesn’t matter to them.” 

Migrants staged an impromptu walkout Tuesday evening after they said multiple people were sickened by food provided by their emergency shelter, July 19, 2023. Credit: Obtained by THE CITY

Neither Bhrags Home Care Corp. which has a $4.5 million city contract to run the shelter at the Bayview Inn Motel, or the Department for Homeless Services immediately returned requests for comment on Wednesday. 

All told, the nonprofit is being paid $24 million by the city to run five shelters, records show. 

By Wednesday morning, Meneses said his wife and their 10-month old baby had to go to the hospital for treatment. Both were treated and discharged by Wednesday afternoon, he said.

Reinel Vidarte, 33, said his two children were spared this week, but had spent the better part of three days last week throwing up, and that one of them had to be hospitalized. 

On Tuesday night, Vidarte said, “‘We were all outside thinking, ‘What are we going to give to our children to eat tonight?’” When his children got sick, he added, staff at the hotel suggested they must have gotten food poisoning elsewhere. 

“I don’t have enough for a $1 candy, how would I buy a meal for $12,” he pushed back. 

“They didn’t give me medicine for the child or anything.”

A group of asylum-seekers left the hotel Wednesday morning pledging to file formal complaints with the Department of Homeless Services, and to request transfers to other facilities, several said. They planned further walkouts if the situation continued, some said. 

Angela, a 33-year-old mother of two who asked that her last name be withheld, called the food they were being served “inhumane.”

“You wouldn’t even give that type of food to dogs,” Angela said. “We’re thankful we have a place to sleep with our children. We’re just asking that they change the food for the children.”

Migrants have been staying at the Bayview Inn Motel in Sheepshead Bay, July 19, 2023. Credit: Gwynne Hogan/THE CITY

Residents of shelters across the city have frequently raised concerns about spoiled or inedible food. Many asylum-seekers have turned to pantries after getting sickened by food at city shelters, Documented reported, and many are in shelters where they’re not allowed to cook their own meals.

The protest at the Bayview Inn Motel comes as the city’s shelter system is bursting at the seams. With the arrival of tens of thousands of asylum-seekers over the past year, the population has ballooned to the highest number in the city’s history, with more than 105,000 people in shelters as of Monday, city officials said. More than 54,800 of those people are recently arrived asylum-seekers, officials said.  

Mayor Eric Adams announced a new policy on Wednesday to begin kicking some migrants out of city shelters after a 60-day warning.

Vidarte, for his part, says he’d be happy to pack his family up and go anywhere in the country, if they’d be afforded a small space to stay and help finding work.

But in these conditions, he said, “we come to suffer. It’s not logical.” 

Additional reporting by Greg B. Smith.