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More National Guard activated, United Way to run new $5 million program to help migrant families

BOSTON — Additional National Guard members have been activated to help with the ongoing migrant crisis in Massachusetts, and a new federally-funded $5 million program run by the United Way will provide “safety net shelter sites” as the state’s emergency shelter system is slated to reach capacity this week, Gov. Maura Healey said Tuesday.

The program will fund “safety net shelter sites” at local churches, schools and community organizations for migrant and homeless families who are on the waitlist for shelter, officials said. The program will be funded by federal dollars earmarked for housing and shelter initiatives, as Massachusetts continues to grapple with an influx of migrants seeking emergency shelter.

Healey said she’s activating 75 more members of the National Guard to provide basic services at emergency shelter locations statewide, and to assist during an upcoming work authorization clinic planned for the next couple of weeks with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

This brings the total number of National Guard members activated to 375, which includes 50 at Joint Base Cape Cod, officials said.

The United Way will administer the new program that will provide short-term, overnight shelter sites at churches, schools and community-based organizations. Local groups will be able to apply for funding to become a “safety net shelter site” through the United Way soon, officials said.

Prospective “safety net shelter sites” include community centers, school buildings, and places of worship with communal gathering spaces and restroom facilities and heat, officials said. Grant funds could be used to provide facilities staff, supplies such as cots and blankets, and food.

“Massachusetts is in a new phase of managing our emergency shelter system, and we are doing everything possible to ensure the safety and wellbeing of families,” Emergency Assistance Director General Scott Rice said in a statement. “We are grateful for this partnership with the United Way and hope that our community partners take advantage of this financial support to stand up safety net shelter sites in this time of great need.”

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.

There are currently 7,439 families enrolled in emergency shelter across the state, officials said Tuesday.

In August, Healey declared a state of emergency in Massachusetts due to the influx of migrant families arriving in the Bay State. The governor has called on the federal government to act to address the issue in Massachusetts.

Bob Giannino, President and Chief Executive Officer at United Way of Massachusetts Bay, said in a statement that the state cannot meet the current demand for people seeking emergency shelter in Massachusetts.

“In an ideal world, our shelter system can do just what it has done – flex to accommodate a wave of people seeking shelter – but the reality is our state cannot meet the current demand,” said Giannino. “We have seen the many ways that community-based organizations have stepped up to respond to this crisis and are proud to partner with the Commonwealth to amplify its efforts to find additional, temporary safety-net shelter accommodations and ensure everyone in Massachusetts has a safe place to stay. Our next challenge is to develop the affordable housing we need across the state.”

The United Way of Massachusetts Bay and The Boston Foundation has also since launched the Massachusetts Migrant Families Relief Fund to assist new migrant arrivals in Massachusetts. That fund, which has raised $1.4 million since it was launched in August, provides assistance to migrant families, including temporary accommodations, food, clothing, diapers, hygiene items, transportation, health screenings, translation services, ESOL classes and legal assistance.

“The Administration is tapping all available resources to support families in need of shelter, but we can’t do this critical work alone,” Secretary of Housing and Livable Communities Ed Augustus said in a statement. “We are grateful to have such an exceptional partner in the United Way, not only for their existing efforts on the Massachusetts Migrant Families Relief Fund, but also for their continued leadership today to administer this safety net shelter grant program.”

The new grant program is being implemented as the winter months approach to support families on the waitlist who do not have overnight shelter alternatives, officials said.

Family Welcome Centers in Allston and Quincy will continue to offer services, including hot meals and basic necessities like diapers, warm clothes, and hygiene kits, officials said.

The Executive Office of Health and Human Services will also continue its efforts to connect families with support, officials said. That work includes providing access to food assistance programs, mental health resources, and developing new guidance for hospitals working with families experiencing homelessness.

In a statement, Secretary of Health and Human Services Kate Walsh said homeless families can count on Family Welcome Centers “to go the extra mile to help meet their needs—from complex benefits navigation like SNAP and WIC to fundamental needs like diapers and winter clothing.”

Meanwhile, a work authorization clinic with the Department of Homeland Security scheduled for next week will be extended to another week beginning on Nov. 27 “to accommodate more shelter residents and help process more work authorizations as efficiently as possible,” officials said.

The legal clinic builds on programs currently operated by the state to provide legal assistance to homeless families and help shelter residents start working, officials said.

In the last few weeks, nearly 300 people in the shelter system have enrolled in MassHire and participated in work readiness services, ESOL classes, and career workshops, officials said.

“Many have already been connected with employers like Dunkin Donuts, Market Basket, Walmart, Sysco food distributors, Yankee Candle and Cooley Dickinson Hospital in Northampton,” officials said in a statement.

“The upcoming clinic will be an incredibly valuable tool to expedite work authorization for individuals, and as a result, open more pathways and job opportunities for newly arrived talent with employers looking for skilled workers,” Labor and Workforce Development Secretary Lauren Jones said in a statement.

RELATED COVERAGE:

Mass. lawmakers let Gov. Healey take migrant shelter crisis to new phase

Judge denies request to put hold on Healey’s plan to cap emergency shelter space

State officials: Mass. emergency shelter system reaching capacity, families to be placed on waitlist

Gov. Healey announces work authorization clinics for migrants living in Massachusetts

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