Massachusetts sets new requirements for migrants, to open Chelsea Soldiers’ Home site

BOSTON — Starting next month, the former Chelsea Soldiers’ Home will be used as a “safety-net site” amid a migrant crisis as Massachusetts officials have set new requirements for families being housed at state overflow sites.

The new rules will require families staying at “safety-net sites” in Massachusetts to recertify monthly and “demonstrate action toward getting work permits, jobs and housing,” state officials said Monday. Approximately 240 families are currently living in state overflow sites, while 7,500 families reside in Emergency Assistance shelters.

Monday’s announcement came as the state’s Emergency Assistance family shelter system has been operating at capacity for months amid a large influx of migrants to the Bay State.

“We have said for months now that our system is at capacity, and we do not have the space, providers or funding to continue expanding,” Emergency Assistance Director General Scott Rice said in a statement. “This new certification policy is a responsible step to address the capacity constraints at our safety-net sites. Families will need to demonstrate that they’ve taken action to get on a path toward independence and out of shelter.”

Effective May 1, families will be required to document engagement in case management and rehousing efforts monthly in order to remain eligible to stay at a state “safety-net site,” state officials said.

During this recertification process, families will be evaluated on whether they have participated in state-provided services, including applying for a work authorization, participating in a workforce training program, submitting job applications, taking English classes, and searching for housing, officials said.

Families will be allowed to remain at the sites as long as they continue to engage these services and activities, state officials said.

The Emergency Assistance program is for families with children or pregnant women who are experiencing homelessness, state officials said. Less than half of families in the state’s Emergency Assistance system are new arrivals to Massachusetts.

Last fall, state officials said that the system could no longer safely or responsibly expand and the state established a waiting list. Families who qualify for Emergency Assistance and are on the waiting list are eligible to stay at the state’s “safety-net sites.”

Shelter providers and case managers will work with families currently in “safety-net sites” to make sure they are aware of the new policy and help them engage in services and apply for re-certification, officials said. The new policy does not apply to “safety-net sites” operated by the United Way of Massachusetts Bay.

Meanwhile, the former Chelsea Soldiers’ Home facility, which is vacant, will serve as a new “safety-net site” starting next month, officials said. Last year, the state opened a new, state-of-the-art facility now known as the Massachusetts Veterans Home at Chelsea.

“Massachusetts has proven that we can take care of veterans and families experiencing homelessness in our state,” Secretary of Veterans Services Dr. Jon Santiago said in a statement. “While EOVS formerly operated the building slated for demolition, this project operates independently and will not impact the daily routines or services at the Massachusetts Veterans Home at Chelsea.”

At full capacity, the new Chelsea site will be able to accommodate approximately 100 families, officials said.

The site will be for families with children or pregnant women who have been deemed eligible for the Emergency Assistance program and have been placed on the waitlist.

In a statement, Elizabeth Sweet, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy (MIRA) Coalition, said that implementing deadlines won’t solve much, saying in part:

“While we understand state leaders are responding to a humanitarian crisis that is without precedent here in Massachusetts, we are deeply concerned that forcing families to reapply for emergency shelter each month will create unnecessary red tape, sow confusion, and ultimately, place more families on the street. Implementing deadlines will solve little when immigrants are already striving to leave the emergency shelter system and provide for themselves and their families as quickly as possible. Instead, state – and federal – leaders should focus on providing community service organizations the resources they need to support arrivals in pursuing work authorization, long-term housing, and case management services.”

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

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