In 2006, the Department of Correction (DOC) erected a wooden shelter near the ferry dock to accommodate the Interfaith Friends of Potter’s Field, a prayer group organized by the nonprofit Picture the Homeless. DOC agreed that the group could assemble at the gazebo on a bi-monthly basis. However, the group required that visitors declare a religious affiliation in violation of city laws. Construction of the gazebo effectively denied access to actual gravesites and discriminated against people with no religious affiliation. Public hearings addressing access to Hart Island in 2011 and 2012 resulted in the New York City Council oversight committee ordering the Department of Correction to open public access to the gazebo. In 2013, the New York City Council passed legislation requiring a database of burials be posted online as well as a visitation policy. Later in 2013, a group of eight women, working with a nonprofit, The Hart Island Project, organized and petitioned New York City to visit the graves of their infants buried on Hart Island. In December 2014, the New York Civil Liberties Union filed a federal class action lawsuit demanding gravesite access for close friends and relatives of the buried. Those who are not friends or relatives of someone buried were permitted to visit the Hart Island gazebo once a month up until the COVID lockdown of the city. These visits did not immediately resume when NYC Parks took over visitor services in October 2021. Families and friends of the deceased may visit gravesites twice a month by appointment.

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