Shelter Cap Hit With Enrollment Of 37 New Families

USA, Boston, Massachusetts, State house

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BOSTON (State House News Service) - The number of families housed in the state's emergency shelter system hit Gov. Maura Healey's limit on Thursday afternoon, triggering a new regulation that will allow the shelter system to begin to turn people away.

Meanwhile, temperatures are dropping and there's no agreement among Beacon Hill Democrats on standing up an overflow shelter site.

As of Thursday there were 7,517 families enrolled in the system, according to state data. Of those, 37 enrolled in the last 24 hours.

That's 17 families over Healey's 7,500 family cap, as a flood of immigrant arrivals has strained shelters over the past year and more than doubled the number of families the state has been required to house under its 1983 right-to-shelter law.

State emergency assistance director L. Scott Rice announced the system hit the limit on Thursday afternoon.

"Today, the family shelter system has reached 7,500 families, and we are at the point where we do not have enough shelter units, service providers, or funding to continue to safely expand," Rice said. "Families will continue to be placed into shelter until the end of the day, and beginning tomorrow, families will be placed into shelter as units become available. If there are no available shelter units, families determined eligible for emergency assistance will be placed on a waitlist. Our administration continues to provide arriving families with resources, basic necessities and support, and we are working with community partners to connect them with safe, overnight options."

With housing vouchers, rental aid and efforts to enable migrants to work, the Healey administration is attempting to move families out of shelter but it's unclear how many slots will open up in the shelter system as families in the system cycle out and new migrant families arrive. An administration official said Thursday that the administration "has been prioritizing exits from the emergency shelter system." 

Eligible families may now be wait-listed, and offered available shelter units based on pre-set priorities. Priority will be given to families at risk of domestic violence, those who have an infant up to three months, have an immunocompromised family member, are experiencing a high-risk pregnancy, or have specific medical needs.

The waiting list will be refreshed once a day, and state officials plan to contact those eligible for shelter by email, phone call and text.

The Healey administration announced earlier this week that they were partnering with the United Way of Massachusetts Bay to support "overnight safety-net shelter" for families and individuals with no other options.

The United Way is using $5 million of federal grant money for the program, but it's unclear how many people could seek overnight relief at those sites or where they will be situated.

Meanwhile, the House advanced legislation on Wednesday to invest an additional $250 million into the shelter system, including a $50 million carve-out for an overflow site. The bill, which has not yet been scheduled for Senate deliberations, would give the administration 30 days from the time the legislation is signed to erect this site because "we don't have time to waste," House Speaker Ron Mariano said.

Healey requested this injection of funds into the system in September, but House Democrats did not bring their plan to the floor until Wednesday, the day before the cap was hit.

Even if the House's proposed overflow site requirement makes it into a final law, the launch date would not arrive until mid-December at the earliest, leaving more than a month during which families might be placed onto a waitlist with no backup option provided by the state.

Asked about the House's proposed overflow site on Wednesday, Healey was noncommittal.

"Yesterday, the House filed something. That's in the legislative process now. A lot will happen, presumably over the next week, with the involvement of the Senate and more conversations there. And I continue to stand ready to work in partnership with the Legislature, with service providers, with the Biden administration to do all we can to address the situation," Healey said.

Written By Sam Drysdale/SHNS

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