Top Dems O.K. With Maura Healey’s New Shelter Rules In Massachusetts

Printed from:

By Sam Drysdale
State House News Service

Top legislative Democrats say they think Massachusetts Governor Maura Healey’s new plan to impose one-month restrictions on families staying in overflow housing shelters is “consistent” with their own plans to limit people’s stays in the state’s more traditional shelter system, which has been inundated over the past year with homeless families.

The governor announced new requirements on Monday, March 25 as the overflow sites have swelled with families in need of housing and unable to secure a spot in the larger Emergency Assistance shelter system that Healey capped at 7,500 families last fall. Under her plan, families in overflow shelters would need to be recertified each month to maintain access to the safety-net beds.

Families will need to show documented engagement in case management and rehousing efforts monthly in order to remain eligible to stay at the overflow sites, where families have temporary beds available to them.

“She announced it just this morning, so we’re taking a look at it,” Massachusetts Senate President Karen Spilka (D-Ashland) told reporters Monday afternoon, when asked for her opinion on the plan regarding Emergency Assistance shelters. “But it is somewhat consistent with what we did last week with EA and having every family on a plan, and the necessity for them to follow the plan to stay in EA.”

Elizabeth Sweet, executive director of the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition, took issue with the governor’s new plans.

“While we understand state leaders are responding to a humanitarian crisis that is without precedent here in Massachusetts, we are deeply concerned that forcing families to reapply for emergency shelter each month will create unnecessary red tape, sow confusion, and,  ultimately, place more families on the street,” Sweet said. “Implementing deadlines will solve little when immigrants are already striving to leave the emergency shelter system and provide for themselves and their families as quickly as possible. Instead, state – and federal – leaders should focus on providing community service organizations the resources they need to support arrivals in pursuing work authorization, long-term housing, and case management services.”

The Massachusetts Senate passed a bill (S.2708) last week to put limits on the amount of time a family can stay in the state’s more traditional shelter system, where families currently stay for an average of longer than a year. That chamber’s measure would allow officials to award one or more 90-day extensions to shelter residents who meet certain criteria, such as single parents of children with disabilities or those who need an extension to avoid losing a job.

A bill approved by the Massachusetts House of Representatives (H.4466) would temporarily limit shelter residents to stays of no more than nine months, and give another three months to those who are employed or enrolled in a job training program, pregnant women, people with certain disabilities, veterans, and those facing domestic violence risks.

Healey would not say Monday which plan she prefers.

“We still are looking at all this,” the governor said when asked.

Massachusetts House Speaker Ron Mariano (D-Quincy) also seems to think that Healey’s plan to restrict overflow sites is in line with the Legislature’s move to begin limiting shelter in the face of a large influx of new homeless families who have needed services over the past year. This spike is largely driven by refugees and immigrants, though the administration says half of the Emergency Assistance system’s residents are local families.

The state is poised to spend nearly $1 billion this fiscal year and again in the fiscal year that starts July 1, 2024 on the emergency family shelter system, a large increase in that area at a time when tax collections are declining, forcing spending choices.

No one on Beacon Hill seems to know how long the elevated demand for family shelter accommodations will last, but the costs have risen to $75 million per month, or about $10,000 per family per month.

“I think all three of us understand that this program needs constraints, that it will sink under its own weight unless we begin to look at ways in which we can control it,” Mariano said Monday. “I think we all arrived at different positions at different times, but it seems as if we’re all going in basically the same direction. And I think that’s what’s important.”

He continued:  “We understand the pressures that this is going to put on our budget, what it’s putting on our service providers and everyone else who is involved in dealing with the huge influx of immigrants we’re getting. So we’ll continue to talk, continue to move forward in the best ways that we think is most effective for each branch.”

When asked by State House News Service on Monday whether families who fail to be recertified for overflow housing would be kicked off a waitlist for Emergency Assistance shelter, a Heakey administration official said the administration is still evaluating. Healey was more decisive on Monday afternoon.

Asked by reporters about recertification affecting families’ waitlist position, Healey said, “It depends.”

“It depends on why they’re not able to participate,” the governor said. “There could be a good reason why they’re not able to fulfill our requirements but if they don’t have a good reason for not fulfilling requirements, then they will lose their spot.”

She also said there would not be a process for families to appeal decisions if they lose access to overflow shelters.

“We’re going to move through any decisions about that carefully and thoughtfully, of course, working with service providers,” Healey said. “But my message today is clear that for those who are coming into our overflow sites, or safety net sites, there are certain requirements that we’re imposing as a state, both on service providers and also on families. We’re providing services as a state — Massachusetts is providing services — and those who want to participate in the program need to be participating, seeking jobs, attending ESL classes, working with case management. The whole idea of this is to divert people from our emergency shelter system to get them on a different path.”


New to NewBostonPost? Conservative media is hard to find in Massachusetts. But you’ve found it. Now dip your toe in the water for two bucks — $2 for two months. And join the real revolution.