Oct 16, 2023 - Politics

Massachusetts to reach migrant shelter capacity this month

Gov. Maura Healey speaks at a podium inside the Massachusetts State House during a news conference.

Gov. Maura Healey addresses reporters Monday. Photo: Steph Solis/Axios

Massachusetts is weeks away from its breaking point in the migrant shelter crisis.

Driving the news: The state expects to reach its emergency shelter capacity of 7,500 families by the end of October, Democratic Gov. Maura Healey said Monday.

  • The state is already housing nearly 7,000 families — 23,000 people in 90 communities —about half of whom are migrant families, Healey said.

Why it matters: While Healey insists the state won’t stop enforcing its right-to-shelter law, the space limitations could force families onto the street until they get off a waitlist.

What they're saying: "I want to be very clear with the public: We are not ending the right-to-shelter law," Healey said.

  • "That said, we are reaching capacity, which is why it's all the more important that we're able to support people exiting shelter."

The intrigue: While shelter service providers acknowledged their limited capacity, at least one organization fired back at Healey over the impending cutoff and urged her to reconsider.

  • "The governor's announcement today raises significant legal and humanitarian concerns," says Oren Sellstrom, litigation director at Lawyers for Civil Rights.
  • "Undermining the right-to-shelter law would run counter to everything Massachusetts stands for."

Context: The announcement comes days after a team from the Department of Homeland Security visited Massachusetts to assess the crisis.

  • Healey did not elaborate on what was discussed, but reiterated the need for the federal government to process work permits faster and urged Congress to fund the Biden administration's supplemental funding request.
  • Healey declared a state of emergency in response to the crisis in August and has joined other governors across the country pressuring the federal government to help.

Zoom in: Healey also announced that MassHire, the state's workforce agency, will begin directly matching migrants with work permits to open jobs, starting with 1,500 families across 14 shelter sites.

  • The state will launch a new job skills training program with Commonwealth Corporation Foundation for migrants waiting on permits. This program is starting in Salem, but other details were sparse.
  • Plus, it will expand support for rental assistance initiatives to help migrants who have been in shelters for more than a year to transition out, Healey said.

Of note: The governor has appointed Lt. Gen. Scott Rice, former commander of the Massachusetts National Guard, as the state’s first emergency assistance director to oversee the crisis response.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to include a statement from Lawyers for Civil Rights.


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