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

BOSTON — Eligible migrant families seeking emergency shelter in Massachusetts will be put on a waitlist as the state’s emergency shelter system is quickly reaching capacity, Emergency Assistance Director Lt. General Scott Rice said Monday.

As of Monday, there are 7,319 families in emergency shelter in Massachusetts. The state does not have enough shelter space, service providers or funding to expand beyond 7,500 families, Gov. Maura Healey earlier said.

Eligible families will continue to be placed into shelter until the system reaches 7,500 families, at which time a waitlist will be established, officials said Monday.

“The Incident Command Team has been hard at work over the past few weeks preparing for this new phase of our emergency family shelter system and keeping in close communication with our partners. We are implementing some key changes this week that will help our team assess families for eligibility and prepare to launch a waitlist when we reach our limit of 7,500 families,” Rice said in a statement Monday.

“We are committed to ensuring that families know about resources available to them while we prioritize helping long-term shelter residents exit into more stable housing options and connecting them with work opportunities,” Rice said.

State officials said Monday that eligible families will continue to be placed into shelter until the system reaches 7,500 families, at which time a waitlist will be established.

Earlier Monday, Healey announced that work authorization clinics will be held next month for migrants living in Massachusetts. State officials said they are coordinating with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to host a work authorization clinic for migrants staying in emergency shelter during the week of Nov. 13. The state will be providing transportation from shelter sites to the clinic, which will take place in Middlesex County, officials said.

On Friday, Lawyers for Civil Rights in Boston filed a class action lawsuit “to preserve and protect Massachusetts’ ‘Right-to-Shelter’ Law, seeking immediate relief before planned changes go into effect,” the group said in a statement Monday. An emergency hearing on the matter is planned on Tuesday in Suffolk County Superior Court.

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.

State officials are implementing a number of changes effective Nov. 1, including:

  • Families will apply for the Emergency Assistance program at state field offices, through the phone line at 866-584-0653, or the Quincy Family Welcome Center at Eastern Nazarene College. They will be screened for eligibility, which includes completing the application, verifying identity, verifying familial relationship, checking electronic databases, and gathering all available documentation.
  • Families that are deemed eligible for emergency assistance will complete a Clinical and Safety Risk pre-screen questionnaire to self-report immediate clinical and/or safety risk concerns that may necessitate priority placement. Translated forms will be available.
  • Families that demonstrate a clinical or safety risk in the pre-screen will complete a full medical assessment to further establish prioritization.
  • As families exit the shelter system, new families will enter vacated units. If there is no capacity on a given day, families will be placed on a waitlist and notified when a unit becomes available. The waitlist order is based on whether a family has a clinical or safety risk priority designation combined with the date they were deemed eligible.
  • When a unit opens for a family on the waitlist, they will be contacted via phone, email and text.
  • Families placed on the waitlist will receive information about other resources available to them, translated into several languages. They will also be assessed for basic needs and offered the opportunity to apply for public benefits through the Department of Transitional Assistance, receive necessities including diapers, hygiene products, and formula, and be referred to community-based resources.

The Allston Family Welcome Center will continue to assist families with applying for public benefits through the Department of Transitional Assistance, providing necessities including diapers, hygiene products, and formula, and referring families to community-based resources.

The state has also expanded its HomeBASE program, which helps cover rent and other costs for families with children under 21 years old or women who are pregnant.

The maximum HomeBASE benefit has been raised from $20,000 to $45,000 to provide over three years in rental assistance and related support, which had previously been 24 months. State officials said “presumptively eligible” families can now access HomeBASE funds, and landlords can receive a bonus payment equal to one month’s rent “for a successful lease up.”

The state will also offer mobile vouchers to the approximately 1,200 emergency assistance families who have been in state shelter longer than 18 months, officials said. Mobile vouchers, also known as tenant-based vouchers, are rental vouchers which are valid for any housing unit that meets the standards of the state sanitary code.

The Commonwealth Corporation Foundation has partnered with state officials to connect businesses to migrants in shelter who are still waiting for their work authorization but looking to gain on-the-job training and skills development. A pilot program is starting in Salem. Interested employers and businesses should contact LWDBusinessinfo@mass.gov.

The United Way Migrant Relief Fund was launched in August to support the needs of migrant families, including temporary accommodations, food, clothing, diapers, hygiene items, transportation, health screenings, translation services, ESOL classes and legal assistance. To date, the fund has raised $1.4 million.

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