Exit rates at emergency shelters show slight improvement amid capacity challenges

Thousands of families are struggling within the Massachusetts emergency shelter system and on the waitlist for placements

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It was a first for one of the Massachusetts emergency shelters housing migrant families: a family from Haiti moved out of the shelter and into their new home. But thousands still fill the shelters and hundreds more are in need. 

Recent data for shelter exit rates show slight movement but it’s a very slow process.



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The Joseph family is one of the lucky ones. They've moved out after living in a hotel since November 2022.

  “I’m very happy and feel good,” said Fenelus Joseph. The day marked a new chance at life.

For the past 19 months, Fenelus, his wife Gilene and their two children have called the cramped quarters of room 111 at the Baymont Inn in Kingston home.  The hotel is one of the dozens of emergency shelters in Massachusetts overburdened by the influx of migrant families.

Sue Giovanetti, who heads up the Plymouth Area Coalition for the Homeless, is contracted by the state to manage day-to-day living at the Baymont and to help families with resources to become independent.

“I think everyone’s doing their best to make this work and to be fair and equitable. We’re trying to do the very best we can, I believe, and it’s a huge challenge," said Giovanetti.

The Joseph family is the first new arrival family to move out of the Baymont since the shelter opened its doors in October 2022. Giovanetti told us the greatest challenge is the length of time it takes families or individuals to get their socials and work authorizations

Getting those work authorizations is crucial to independence. Fenelus and Gilene both have jobs and qualified for up to $30,000 in assistance to help with rent during the next two years.

But there are thousands of families still struggling, with 7,500 in emergency shelters. State data shows hundreds more are in the pipeline with 798 on the waitlist as of May 30, 2022. Most are stuck in the system, with only 23% of the families that entered since September 2023 exiting emergency shelters. The projected costs have skyrocketed to $915 million in the upcoming fiscal year.

Democratic Se. John Velis serves on the Joint Committee on Housing. He told us the federal government needs step up on funding and work authorizations. Velis also believes the state should take a hard look at its right-to-shelter law which guarantees all homeless families shelter.

“I just don’t think it’s sustainable. That is my biggest concern right now, that the status quo without an exit strategy, without an offramp, is not sustainable. When does it end? When does the bleeding stop in terms of the amount of money that we’re spending on this program?”

Back in August 2023, Gov. Maura Healey declared a state of emergency over the state of the system, paired with the number of migrant families seeking assistance from the system.

“We’re doing what the state legislated in 1982," Giovanetti said. There’s no question I think no one ever foresaw that it could go to this scale, so there has to be changes, there has to be adaptations, everything else has changed.”

Years after escaping the violence of their homeland, the Josephs' belongings were loaded into a pickup truck, hauled a few miles down the road to a beautiful, state of the art apartment.  The living room was as big as the hotel room they lived in at the Baymont.  The apartment is a safe haven and key to a new beginning.

“I tell our staff all the time that we’re in the business of providing hope and when I looked at this young family today, it’s like oh my gosh, that’s really what it’s all about. It’s a whole new world for them,” said Giovanetti.

A case management stabilization team will follow the Joseph family to make sure their jobs are stable and bills are being paid during the next few years.

A spokesperson for the Healey-Driscoll administration told us the exit numbers have improved in recent months and their goal is to ensure that emergency shelter is temporary, supportive and non-recurring.  Stays in emergency shelter are now limited to nine months with some exceptions and extensions. The state is expected to begin sending out exit notices to families beginning in July.

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