Nov 9, 2023 - News

Massachusetts maxes out emergency family shelter system

Illustration of a homeless person sitting in front of a white picket fence

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Massachusetts officially hit its limit for sheltering families Thursday.

Why it matters: Homeless families that did qualify for emergency shelter may have to wait out in the cold until slots open up for them in the state-run system.

Driving the news: The state has enrolled more than 7,500 families in the shelter system, triggering the state's enrollment cap, according to the state's tracker.

  • Close to half of those families are migrants, including some asylum seekers.
  • "Families will continue to be placed into shelter until the end of the day, and beginning tomorrow, families will be placed into shelter as units become available," Gen. Scott Rice, emergency assistance director, said in a statement Thursday.

What we know: The Healey administration has asked the federal government to help the state build a "large-scale overflow site" for families on the waitlist, according to Rice.

  • But no federal funding for overflow shelter has come through yet.
  • The Department of Homeland Security is working with the state on a clinic next week to help migrants in shelters with work permit applications.
  • Families seeking shelter need to apply for the waitlist and undergo a health screening. The state will prioritize families at risk due to domestic violence, those with infants, pregnant people and others with special circumstances.

What we don't know: Where people can go. Housing advocates are scrambling to help families, but many were removed from their homes or came to Massachusetts not knowing anyone.

  • "This is really heart-wrenching," Rev. Dieufort Fleurissaint, a Haitian community advocate, tells Axios.
  • Many Haitian pastors rent spaces for their services, meaning they can't let migrant families who approach them stay there overnight, Fleurissaint says.

Plus: In Boston, police are clearing encampments and are tasked with preventing new ones from popping up under an ordinance Mayor Michelle Wu recently signed.

State of play: The House on Wednesday passed a spending bill that mandates the launch of an overflow shelter site for those on the waitlist, allotting $50 million for its creation.

  • The Healey administration tapped grassroots organizations to set up overflow shelter sites, launching a $5 million grant program to fund those efforts.

Yes, but: Those overflow shelters don't exist yet.

Note: This is a breaking news story and may be updated.


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