Governor Healey: Migrants are mindful of coming to Mass. as colder weather sets in

BOSTON — The colder weather setting in across Massachusetts could be affecting the number of migrants coming to the state, Gov. Maura Healey said following a chilly outdoor press conference Tuesday.

Officials are seeing a “drop” in new arrivals seeking emergency shelter, Healey said. But she said it’s difficult to pinpoint the cause.

The governor announced on Oct. 16 that her administration would cap shelter capacity at 7,500 families, and temperatures since then have continued their seasonal drop, with winter ready to take hold next month.

House Speaker Ron Mariano last month said he was advised that declining temperatures wouldn’t make an impact, but Healey raised the weather Tuesday when asked by a reporter if fewer families were arriving following her shelter cap announcement.

“We also have colder weather, and I think frankly, people are mindful of that as they make decisions about whether to leave Texas or Florida as they’ve come into the country,” Healey told reporters.

With dozens of migrant families arriving daily in recent weeks ahead of her shelter cap announcement, Healey had expected the shelter would reach its limit by Nov. 1. But it took until Nov. 9 before officials had to start turning families away.

Some 90 families were on a waitlist to access state-funded shelter on Monday, homelessness prevention advocates said Monday.

Healey said about 17 families spent Monday night at MBTA headquarters, where administration officials converted conference rooms into a temporary overnight shelter operation. The space at the State Transportation Building can accommodate up to 25 families.

“This is all about we’re going to do everything we can, and we have so far, to make sure that families are housed here in the state. I’m proud of the effort last night,” Healey said, referring to the Transportation Building accommodations. “Obviously we have more capacity there, and we’re just going to continue to work the problem.”

The governor declared a shelter state of emergency in August and in October announced her cap, saying “we do not have enough space, service providers or funds to safely expand beyond 7,500 families.”

After Monday’s surprise announcement, Healey wouldn’t say whether other state buildings will be used for shelter, but said more shelter options are “coming online” through a previously announced $5 million grant program administered by United Way of Massachusetts Bay.

“What we’ve said right now is we’re going to continue to do what we can to make sure that people are housed, and that’s what we’ve done,” Healey said.

Spokespeople for United Way did not respond to News Service questions about the distribution of public grant dollars so far to community and volunteer organizations, as well as faith groups, to establish congregate overflow shelter sites.

Administration officials, who unveiled the grant program earlier this month, said prospective sites included communal gathering spaces with restroom facilities and heat, such as community centers, school buildings, and places of worship. Grants can be used to support staff and supplies like cots, blankets and food.

The governor’s request for $250 million to support families in the state’s emergency shelter system remains held up in private talks among Democrats who could not strike a deal on a supplemental budget bill last week before the end of formal lawmaking for the year.

While the House and Senate broadly agree on the funding amount, House Democrats want to condition some of their funding on the creation of an overflow site or sites and force the administration to revoke its shelter limit if officials fail to do so.

“I hope it gets done -- we need that supp budget done,” Healey said. “We need the bill done, and want to be able to see that happen as soon as possible. This is important funding for state workers, for MassHealth, for special ed, for flood relief, assistance to our cities and towns. There’s a lot that is there, so we really need the action.”

This is a developing story. Check back for updates as more information becomes available.

Download the FREE Boston 25 News app for breaking news alerts.

Follow Boston 25 News on Facebook and Twitter. | Watch Boston 25 News NOW