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With the state’s emergency shelter system overwhelmed by a surge of migrant and homeless families, the Healey-Driscoll administration is joining biweekly MMA briefings for chief municipal officials and sharing resources to help municipal officials who have placements in their communities.
The administration has shared a 10-page document that includes a fact sheet, answers to frequently asked questions, answers to fiscal issues, and regional contacts for municipal officials.
Roughly 90 communities across the state are hosting emergency placements of families with children and pregnant women in hotels and other settings. The number of families in the state’s emergency shelter system has grown by more than 60%, to nearly 6,600, since Gov. Maura Healey and Lt. Gov. Kim Driscoll took office in January.
To deal with the crisis, the governor implemented an Incident Command Structure in May, declared a state of emergency on Aug. 8, and activated up to 250 National Guard personnel in early September to assist with logistics, particularly at shelter sites that lack service providers. The administration has also been urging the federal government to help, particularly with funding and by expediting work authorizations so those in shelters can move into the workforce.
The state’s Emergency Assistance shelter program is for families with children or pregnant women who are experiencing homelessness. The administration said about half of the families are recently arrived migrants, most of whom are here legally and are eager to find jobs.
The MMA and administration officials have held three webinar briefings for chief municipal officials thus far, on July 19, Sept. 12 and Sept. 27. The next one is scheduled for Oct. 11 at 4 p.m.
Driscoll and Ed Augustus, the secretary of Housing and Livable Communities, also updated local officials during a Sept. 12 meeting of the Local Government Advisory Commission at the State House.
Driscoll said the fact that the state was already facing a shortage of affordable housing has made matters worse. She thanked local officials for their partnership, noting the “heroic efforts of community members” to provide services and meals to those in emergency shelter placements.
At the LGAC meeting, several local leaders talked about the support they need as they work to absorb the burden in their communities, particularly funding for unanticipated education and social service needs and timely communication.
Westborough Town Manager Kristi Williams said her town had more than 80 families housed in hotels, with more expected to arrive in October. The town has enrolled 40 new students, with 25 more coming soon. She said the migrant children have language needs that her school district isn’t currently able to meet.
In order to expedite direct communication with municipalities, Driscoll has requested a list of primary contacts for each community, including email addresses and cell phone numbers. The chief municipal officer — primarily mayors and town managers — and another designated staff member are suggested as key contacts. A Google form has been set up to share contact information with the administration.
While the state’s Emergency Assistance shelter program is for families with children and pregnant women, the number of homeless individuals has also been on the rise. The administration shared a directory of Services for those Experiencing Homelessness Statewide.