Additional reporting by Katie Honan and Ben Fractenberg
Workers have started building tent shelters on Randall’s Island for thousands of migrants after Mayor Eric Adams declared there’s “no more room” in city shelters — while a soccer club headed by one of the mayor’s own commissioners is petitioning to block the temporary housing.
The pushback by the West Side Soccer League (WSSL) is “despicable,” according to one Manhattan parent, a city worker, who has pulled his kids from the soccer program because of its anti-shelter stance.
For Lucian Reynolds’ 6-year old son, Saturdays during soccer season have been spent dribbling across the turf in Riverside Park where he plays for the West Side Soccer League (WSSL), which uses fields all over Upper Manhattan and on Randall’s Island, as well as one in The Bronx.
His son likes the program and it’s affordable, so Reynolds had signed him and his 3-year-old brother up for the fall season. But now he says he’s looking to place his kids in a different league, come September.
His hasty withdrawal comes after he received an email from WSSL volunteer commissioner Vilda Mayuga circulating a petition demanding that Adams stop using soccer fields — including ones on Randall’s Island that the club plays on — as shelter sites for migrants.
Mayuga, who’s also the commissioner of the city’s Department of Consumer and Worker Protection (DCWP), encouraged family members of children playing in the soccer league to sign the petition.
“We understand that as a City, we’re dealing with an unprecedented number of arrivals and that we are struggling to meet the needs of these individuals,” reads Mayuga’s email, sent from her West Side Soccer League account. “However, it simply cannot be at the expense of our youth and the NYC government must make responsible decisions.”
As of Thursday afternoon, more than 700 people had signed on.
“I thought it was despicable,” said Reynolds, 40, who works for the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development. He emphasized that he was speaking for himself, not on behalf of his employer. “They’ve put the needs of a structured game over the need for sheltering people who come despite all the terror they’ve experienced.”
Reynolds is nearly alone in publicly taking that position, while hundreds of people have signed the petition opposing the use of Randall’s Island soccer fields for migrant shelters. One city parent wrote an op-ed in the New York Post railing against the plan.
Adams announced earlier this week that some of the fields on Randall’s Island would be used for a new shelter location. On Thursday, THE CITY spotted workers in orange vests putting up white tents near the fields, which were fenced off with security guards at the gates.
Currently, there are no immediate plans to use other recreational fields besides those on Randall’s Island as shelters for migrants.
In the email Reynolds received, Mayuga noted that although the league doesn’t often use fields at Randall’s in the fall, the club is concerned that it may “lose other field space as all spaces get shifted around,” and that “the condition of the fields would mean that even when the fields are returned for youth soccer programming, their condition would likely be so bad their use will be limited and it will take time to repair.”
Mayuga said in a statement to THE CITY: “This email represents the collective decision of the board of my children’s soccer league, for which I am commissioner in my private capacity. I have a long career and commitment to serving immigrant families and helping them succeed in their journeys to our country. The Department of Consumer and Worker Protection and I remain committed to helping people seeking asylum and wholly support the Mayor’s plan to assist them.”
On Thursday, every city agency, including DCWP, shared a video of Adams delivering a message about migrants: “New York City will continue to do more than any other city or level of government in the nation to accommodate asylum seekers,” he said. “Because that’s who we are: A city of empathy, of compassion and care.”
Advocates for migrants have objected to Randall’s Island given its flood-prone and isolated location, although they’ve said it’s a better option than having people sleeping on the sidewalks.
Inquiries to the Department of Parks and Recreation about the plans for Randall’s Island were not immediately returned. A spokesperson for Mayor Adams referred THE CITY to DCWP’s statement. WSSL did not respond to a request for comment by THE CITY.
Mayuga’s city biography notes that she previously served as a deputy commissioner at the state Department of Labor, overseeing divisions including Immigrant Policies and Affairs, after a stint as that division’s executive director.
As to the petition she sent trying to keep the city from using the fields for migrants, “there’s no one saying that soccer is going to end for them,” said Reynolds, noting the shelters are temporary.
“I’m hoping that the actions of our family could make a change in the lives of others, and I don’t think it’s that much to give for families to make shelter and safety possible.”