Massachusetts governor seeks federal action on migrant crisis

10/17/23 By Peyton Benbow

Governor Maura Healey announced Monday that Massachusetts emergency shelter systems are facing a homelessness crisis that the State can no longer manage. There are roughly 7,000 families in the system, with Healey remarking that about half are newly arrived immigrants. State officials expect the number to rise to 7,500 families, or 24,000 individuals, by the end of the month. 

“The trend continues to be driven by the arrival of families who are new to our country,” Healey said. “They are here lawfully. Allowed in with the knowledge and consent of our federal government.”

The emergency shelter system was adopted after a 1983 “right to shelter” law was passed in Massachusetts, stating that officials must immediately house eligible families. Of the 7,000 families in the system, 3,270 are staying in hotels and motels that the State rents out. Governor Healey announced that the State does not have the funding or site availability to house more families. 

With the rising number of homeless families arriving in Massachusetts, Healey says they cannot “guarantee” that new families will receive placement through the emergency shelter system. To the families that will not be able to have immediate shelter and will be placed on a waitlist.

Governor Healey called for federal action to send funding to States affected by the rising number of migrant families, saying “state and local budgets can only stretch so far”. Weeks earlier, Healey requested $250 million from the State Legislature that they have not addressed. In an interview with WCVB on Sunday, House Speaker Ronald Mariano said, “It’s not going to solve our problem. It may not even get us to the end of the month”. Healey said on Monday that she will not ask for more and is seeking federal action to assist with the emergency shelter system crisis. 

In her announcement Monday, she appointed retired Lt. Gen. Scott Rice, former director of the Air National Guard and commander of the Massachusetts National Guard, as the new director of the program. To help get families out of the emergency shelter system, the program will work with the Commonwealth Corporation Workforce Agency to develop job training initiatives specific to migrant families. Healey also called for more funding for State initiatives like HomeBASE that offer rental vouchers to homeless families. 

Starting November 1, 2023, the State will no longer build new sites for the emergency shelter system. The system will direct families experiencing homelessness to Family Welcome Centers and the Department of Transitional Assistance.