Councilwoman tours Hollis shelter following asylum seeker’s suicide

Councilwoman Linda Lee calls on the city to provide stronger support to asylum seekers after a mother from Colombia committed suicide at a Hollis shelter. (Courtesy of NYC Council)

While the city grapples with a wave of more than 13,000 asylum seekers that have overwhelmed the shelter system in recent months, Councilwoman Linda Lee toured the Hollis Family Shelter at 21-05 Jamaica Ave. to learn more about the living conditions at the facility after a young mother from Colombia committed suicide on Sept. 18.

As chair of the Committee on Mental Health, Disabilities and Addictions, Lee sought answers as to why Leidy Paola Martinez Villalobos, 32, took her own life, leaving behind a 15-year-old boy and his 7-year-old sister after they were separated from their father at the Arizona border in April.

“My heart and prayers are with the family of the asylum seeker who tragically died by suicide at a shelter within the district,” Lee said. “Asylum seekers come to our country’s border seeking refuge and fleeing horrors and unimaginable conditions that they were experiencing back home, only to be bused thousands of miles to a completely different location.”

Martinez Villalobos and her children arrived at the Hollis Family Shelter in the spring, before Texas Gov. Greg Abbott began busing thousands of asylum seekers to New York City, taking advantage of its right to shelter law. Earlier this month, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis added to the growing crisis by sending asylum seekers to Martha’s Vineyard.

“These families are being exploited as a political stunt by other states, creating a humanitarian crisis that has taken its toll on the mental well-being of people seeking better lives for their loved ones,” Lee said. “As a city, we must do everything we can to support asylum seekers by providing culturally competent and linguistically accessible care, in addition to essential mental health services to those who come to New York desperately in need of lifesaving assistance.”

Public Advocate Jumaane Williams joined Lee during her tour of the Hollis Family Shelter on Friday, Sept. 23, and while he found conditions at the facility to be adequate, he called for reforms to the overburdened system which would improve conditions and help open up capacity, while strongly affirming the moral and legal right to shelter in New York City.

“While it’s clear that shelter staff are working with the resources they have to provide care, it’s also clear that the system citywide was not prepared for the level of need among New Yorkers even before the current arrivals of asylum seekers,” Williams said. “The administration must provide the kind of transparency needed to ensure that New Yorkers in our shelters, including those who have just arrived seeking asylum and support, have what they need and deserve.”

Williams also called for additional federal resources to support the city in addressing the drastic increase in need with the arrival of asylum seekers. Lee said those in need of assistance could call 988, NYC Well at 888-692-9355, and the Asylum Seeker Resource Navigation Center.

“[These] are just some of the resources available to the individuals struggling with mental health-related stress and trauma,” she said. “We have a duty to continue ensuring those seeking help access the care they need.”