Mariano: Hynes Convention Center in Boston eyed as potential overflow shelter site for migrants

BOSTON — The vast Hynes Convention Center in Boston is being discussed as a potential overflow shelter site for the influx of migrants coming into Massachusetts, House Speaker Ron Mariano said Wednesday.

The state House of Representatives also on Wednesday approved a $2.8 billion supplemental budget to close the books for Fiscal Year 2023, including $250 million to support the state’s response to the influx of migrant families seeking emergency assistance. Having passed by a House vote of 133-25, the bill now goes to the Senate for consideration.

As of Wednesday, there were 7,488 families enrolled in the emergency assistance program, state officials said.

When asked by reporters if the Hynes is a possible location for an overflow shelter site, Mariano said the convention center is one of many locations being discussed by state officials.

“We’ve talked about a lot of different options. There are plenty in the state and it’s up to them as to how many we need. Do we need one, if we’ve got Hynes, will that do it? Or do we need multiple locations all across the state?” Mariano said.

The John B. Hynes Veterans Memorial Convention Center, located at 900 Boylston St. in the heart of Boston’s Back Bay neighborhood, is a popular destination for business and other conventions. Built in 1988, the center has 176,480 square feet of exhibit space, including four exhibit halls, according to the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority.

According to the Hynes’ schedule, December through February is the slow season. It is the location for big Expos like the Boston Marathon in April.

“That’s where things get tricky you have a lot of foot traffic on Boylston, Newbury is right here. It is probably going to ruffle a lot of feathers, but you never know until you try,” said Dylan Genovese who works nearby.

“For anyone who has been in the Hynes, it is not set up for people to be in so for them to really think that is a good idea. Let’s just be real about it,” said Ade Laurent who also works in Boston.

“I think it’s a decent idea,” said Jeff Thielman, International Institute of New England. He specializes in helping refugees and immigrants. “It has to be very short term and there has to be an exit strategy There has to be a strategy to get people into apartments.”

Gov. Maura Healey on Tuesday announced that 75 additional National Guard members have been activated to help with the ongoing migrant crisis in Massachusetts. This brings the total number of National Guard members activated to 375, which includes 50 at Joint Base Cape Cod, officials said.

In a statement, Governor Healey’s office said:

“Our administration has had many conversations over the past few months as we explore all options for ensuring families have a safe place to sleep. We continue to call on the federal government to stand up a large scale overflow site, and we are working with the United Way and community partners on short-term overflow options.”

A new federally-funded $5 million program run by the United Way will also provide “safety net shelter sites” as the state’s emergency shelter system is slated to reach capacity this week, Healey also said Tuesday.

“Where are these people going to go? Where do they show up? Where do they spend the night when they come in here on a Friday night at 7 o’clock?” Mariano told reporters on Wednesday of incoming migrants. “Are they going to go directly to the Common and bed down for the night? Are they going to show up in the emergency room? Are they going to show up in the police station or at the airport?”

“These are questions that we’ve been asking and this is an attempt to make sure we have a site that we can count on for these folks who are over the limit, who are going to be vetted and checked and we want them to have a temporary place where they are treated and taken care of,” Mariano said of plans for overflow shelter sites as Massachusetts continues to grapple with an influx of migrants seeking emergency shelter.

Healey has said the state’s Emergency Assistance family shelter system has expanded at an unsustainable rate, more than doubling caseload over the past year.

Last month, the governor said that the state does not have enough shelter units, service providers, or funding to continue to safely and responsibly expand shelter capacity beyond approximately 7,500 families – which is expected to be reached by Wednesday or Thursday of this week.

The $250 million approved by the House on Wednesday includes $50 million that is contingent upon state officials identifying a state-funded overflow emergency shelter site for families who have been waitlisted for emergency shelter.

The bill requires that the state set up an overflow site or sites within 30 days after enactment, otherwise, the emergency regulations setting the cap would have to be revoked.

The $250 million for emergency assistance also includes:

  • $75 million for supplemental school district costs associated with additional mandatory student enrollments
  • $10 million for resettlement agencies to connect families with housing and other services
  • $6 million for additional municipal support
  • $5 million for migrant and refugee workforce programs
  • $65 million for the costs associated with sheltering eligible families
  • $18 million for temporary emergency shelter sites
  • $12 million for wraparound services provided to families
  • $6 million for supplemental staffing needs at emergency assistance shelters
  • $3 million for the various family triage centers in the Commonwealth

Mariano said Wednesday that the emergency shelter issue for migrants “is a federal problem.”

“There is no mistaking the fact that we didn’t create this,” Mariano said. “We’re just trying to deal with it. We’re struggling to deal with it. The news is not good. The numbers continue to show up at our door and we have to deal with it, and we are full. We heard that loud and clear from the administration. And now, we’re trying to figure out what we do with the folks who are above the cap and where they go.”

When asked by a reporter if the state should be opening up its own shelter sites while awaiting more federal support, Mariano said, “That’s what we’re doing.”

“Why it’s important is because people are going to still come and we can’t stop them from coming,” Mariano said. “We want to make sure they’re not out in the cold, we want to make sure that they’re not sleeping on the street or in the Common or in the airport or showing up in the hospital emergency rooms. These are the alternatives that have been used in the past and we don’t want that.”

“We’re going to work to solve this problem as much as we can and at some point, I think we used, what was the term we used? Unsustainable,” Mariano said. “It is unsustainable. That means we can’t sustain it and at some point, we won’t.”

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

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