Hundreds attend Norfolk town meeting to voice concerns of migrants moving into former state prison

NORFOLK, Mass. — About 200 people packed the Norfolk Select Board meeting Wednesday night to voice their concerns over the state’s plan to open up an emergency shelter at the former prison.

“There is no turning back when this happens, our schools are overcrowded as it is, we have a budget problem – this isn’t a humanitarian question, this is a mathematical question, it cannot happen,” said John Semas, a Norfolk resident.

Norfolk town leaders say they met with state leaders Wednesday and learned the state does plan to house about 450 people at the former Bay State Correctional Center.

The overflow site is meant to help homeless families with children, many of them migrants who have been sleeping at Logan Airport.

“Now we are considering adding additional children onto the plate of our already stretched too thin teachers and expecting it just to work?” said one woman during public comment.

The biggest concern is how the schools will handle this influx of children, while a few people said they worry about those new students getting bullied if they’re not welcome here.

“As one of the few black families in this town, I feel obligated to ask this question because I don’t want these children to be targets,” said another woman during public comment.

Public safety is another concern with the sudden increase in the population for this tiny town.

The Norfolk Fire Chief says when the shelter opens, he’s expecting emergency calls to increase by five to ten percent, which will impact response times to residents.

“I visited the facility on Monday, there were no contractors there, we were told barbed wire will be taken down potentially the fencing, all of that takes time, obviously money,” said Rep. Marcus Vaughn, who attended Wednesday’s meeting.

Rep. Vaughn and Norfolk town leaders say they’ve been left in the dark on this new shelter, but they’re hoping to mitigate the impact to this town.

“It’s not going away and we just need to be able to best deal with this situation as a community,” said Rep. Vaughn.

Norfolk town leaders say they didn’t have a say in this since the prison is state property, and this was up to the governor.

State leaders will likely hold a community forum on this in early June, but the plan is still to open this shelter by mid-June.

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