Massachusetts

Migrants express gratitude with National Guard set to help at emergency shelters

More than 6,000 families, including migrants and Massachusetts residents experiencing homelessness, are in emergency shelters across the state

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Migrants staying in emergency shelters in Massachusetts say they are grateful for the help the commonwealth is providing them.

Subeidy Romero is a Venezuelan migrant staying at a hotel turned into an emergency shelter. She says they have been visited by medics who have provided health assessments.

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"We went through a lot of things on the way, but thanks to God, we are here," she said.

Romero said children among them are being enrolled in school. These resources are being provided by community organizations tapped as service providers for the emergency shelters — however there are about 40 hotel shelters without a contracted service provider.

Those are the sites where 250 National Guard members will be deployed later this month to facilitate the onsite coordination of services such as food, basic needs, transportation, and medical care delivered by the site, external vendors, community organizations, and state and local government, according to a spokesperson for Gov. Maura Healey’s office.

"We are very grateful with the governor for taking us into account. Honestly, thank you so much, God bless her," Romero said in Spanish in response to the announcement about the National Guard.

"Truly what we really want is work permits. We want to work to get ahead and send things back to our families in Venezuela," she said.

Maria Claudia Ceneos, a Haitian migrant who is also staying at the shelter, echoed that sentiment.

"We came to work, that is the most important for us," she said in Spanish. "We need a place to live, first. And second somewhere to work to care of ourselves. We did not come here to stay with the help of the government, we also need something to be able to take care of ourselves and our families."

"There were some sites that were what we would call unstaffed and that meant providers just didn't have the bandwidth to cover all of the sites that were needed in the expansion to house all families," said Danielle Ferrier, CEO of Heading Home, an emergency shelter and transitional housing provider in Boston. "There were sites that did not have staff on site and now will have a National Guardsperson on site and the reason is that's really critical is when you congregate large groupings of people together, who especially are in a higher risk or more vulnerable state or category we know that they can become vulnerable to being preyed upon or being taken advantage of or other unsafe situations and so this is both a safety need as well as a response to basic needs being met."

"We're all at capacity. The emergency shelter system in Massachusetts is tapped out," said Lino Covarrubias, CEO of Jewish Family Service West Metro, about why there are hotels without service providers.

"Framingham is lucky to have organizations JFS and other service providers because Framingham is such a large city, but there are other towns and cities that are smaller that don't have the same resources," said Covarrubias. "The other thing the governor announced that there is going to be some response teams to coordinate all of the care, and I think that's very much what we need. It has to be almost like a command center set up so that you are able to respond accordingly."

Last month, the governor issued a state of emergency over rapidly rising numbers of migrant families arriving in Massachusetts. According to Healey's office, there are currently more than 6,000 families, including children and pregnant women, in emergency shelters across the state — that number represents both migrants arriving in Massachusetts, as well as residents experiencing homelessness.

"It's a cumulative issue," said Ferrier. "This system was on the brink before we had families coming who are newly arriving, for our own Massachusetts residents, but we continue to see those Massachusetts residents continuing to enter shelter like we normally would have, as well as families newly arriving, then we have, as folks know, an extremely expensive housing market in Massachusetts, relative to the national averages and a lack of stock, so when you start to put all those things together we end up in the crisis we are in today."

Ferrier says she thinks the state will continue to see people entering the emergency shelter system, both Massachusetts residents and families who are arriving to the U.S.

"I don't see, when I read the international news, a decrease in the pressures of the countries where folks are coming from in terms of the safety and those countries being more settled so that is the pressure that families who are seeking asylum and refugee are in the U.S.," said Ferrier. "Until some of those components shift, my guess is we'll still continue to see increases of families seeking that safety and refuge here."

She commended Healey for bringing in the National Guard and taking what she described as a multi-tiered response.

"I was really impressed in the governor's and her team's response this past week," Ferrier said. "The local, regional and statewide response which is the multi-tiered response that we do need from a system in order to be most effective."

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