BOSTON (AP) — The number of homeless families seeking emergency shelter in Massachusetts is nearing the Democratic governor’s threshold of 7,500 families. Maura Healey says the state can no longer accept them and will instead put families on a waiting list and prioritize those with the highest needs.
Healey said she doesn’t want to see families on the streets, but the state has essentially reached its shelter capacity. The increase in demand is partly caused by a wave of migrant families enter the state.
Massachusetts joins other places suffering from an influx of migrant families seeking shelter. New York City Mayor Eric Adams has announced that he will limit the length of stay for migrant families with children to 60 days. In ChicagoOfficials have tried to relocate asylum-seeking migrants there from police stations and the city’s airports winter-proof camps with huge tents.
As of Wednesday, the number of families in shelters in Massachusetts was 7,488.
Critics argue that Healey’s decision to limit shelter placements violates the state’s “right to shelter” law. Under the four-decade-old law, Massachusetts is legally required to provide emergency housing to eligible families.
Under Healey’s plan, priority will be given to women, young children and people with urgent medical needs and health conditions. The state is also considering limiting the length of time a family can stay in a shelter, Healey said.
With winter not far away, authorities are scrambling to prevent families from ending up on the streets. A flyer the state prepared to give to families denied housing suggests a handful of options. The first is to “return to the last safe place you stayed.”
On Tuesday, Healey announced a $5 million grant program to help local organizations create overnight shelters for families and pregnant individuals who have no other options.
Massachusetts lawmakers are also considering a bill that would allocate $50 million to establish one or more sites where homeless families could find temporary shelter while they wait for a shelter placement.
Democratic House Speaker Ronald Mariano said it could be a single large site, such as the Hynes Convention Center in Boston, or smaller sites across the state.
“Where are these people supposed to go?” Mariano said Wednesday. “Where are they going to stay if they come here at 7 p.m. on a Friday night? Are they just going to go straight to the (Boston) Common and stay there?”
Healey said she is urging federal officials to speed up the process by which migrants can get work permits and ultimately leave the shelter system to make more room.
Denying emergency shelter to families could force some into unsafe living conditions, said Kelly Turley, director of the Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless.
She and other homeless advocates have pushed lawmakers to appropriate money for a large housing complex similar to the one Mariano described.
“We are very concerned that after 40 years of having the right to housing, the administration is moving forward with its plan without ensuring that community housing is available,” Turley said.
Advocates welcoming new migrants to the state say they are concerned about how to help those who have no friends or family and nowhere to stay.
“When people come, especially those with babies, do we send them out onto the streets?” said Geralde Gabeau, executive director of the Immigrant Family Services Institute in Boston. “We’re not sending them out on the streets, so we need a place to send them.”
Families are currently being housed in hundreds of locations in 90 cities and towns in a range of facilities, from traditional accommodation to temporary accommodation such as student halls of residence.
The state Executive Office of Housing and Livable Communities last week issued guidance on upcoming changes to the shelter system.
Top priority will be given to families who are at imminent risk of domestic violence or who have an infant up to three months old, whose family members are immunocompromised, who are experiencing a high-risk pregnancy, or who have a family member wearing a medical device. specifically a tracheostomy tube. Additional priority levels take into account the age and medical needs of family members.
With guidance, available accommodations will be offered to families based on their position on the waiting list. The list is updated once daily and those eligible for accommodation are contacted via email, phone calls and text messages. Families on the waiting list for six months or longer must undergo further assessment.