Five Ways Massachusetts Should Reform Its Right-To-Shelter Law

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The right-to-shelter law in Massachusetts has been a top political issue in the state over the past year, as have potential reforms to it.

Governor Maura Healey capped the state’s emergency shelter system at 7,500 families last fall, resulting in waiting lists to get into the system. Cost has also been a problem, with House Speaker Ron Mariano (D-Quincy) recently saying the state may enact budget cuts to fund the system in fiscal year 2026, as NewBostonPost previously noted.

If the state’s politicians stand up and do what’s right, they could fix the problems with the state’s emergency shelter system easily. Here are five reforms it should enact.


1. Residency Requirement

Republican lawmakers on Beacon Hill have pushed unsuccessfully for a common-sense solution to this problem:  a six-month residency requirement on our state’s right-to-shelter law.

Nearly half of those in the state’s emergency shelter system currently are migrants, so this would cut the demand for the shelter system. This would not only save the state money, but it would also ensure that homeless Bay Staters had a spot, rather than being forced onto a waiting list. 

Massachusetts is the only state that has this type of right-to-shelter law, which is to say not even Vermont and California are putting migrants up long-term in taxpayer-funded hotel stays. When you’re more liberal than states that elected U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) and Governor Gavin Newsom (D-California), maybe you need to reconsider your priorities. 


2. Legal Status

Some illegal immigrants are eligible to use the state’s emergency shelter system.

Only one person in a family applying for emergency shelter needs to at least not be wanted for immediate deportation, as NewBostonPost previously reported. That means it could be a legal resident, or someone awaiting an immigration hearing that may result in a removal from the country.

Here’s a crazy proposal:  you should have to live in the country legally to get a long-term taxpayer-funded hotel stay in the Commonwealth.

We’re a country of laws and those who break them shouldn’t be entitled to a government handout. Surely, most illegal immigrants are decent people who merely want a better life in America. But there’s little or no vetting by the government of many illegal immigrants, and the letting them in and giving them free services costs taxpayers money. Government benefits to illegal immigrants cost Bay Staters $1.8 billion annually in 2014, as The Boston Herald reported at the time. That figure has most likely grown.

We should try to reduce the cost the state has incurred by illegal immigrants, not increase it.


3.  Cut Costs

It costs our state $75 million per month to house 7,500 families. That’s $10,000 per month per family and growing. Times that by 12 and you get $120,000 per year.

That’s not fiscally responsible, especially considering the state is spending $64 per day to feed migrants. Even if you go somewhere pricey for groceries like Fruit Center Marketplace in Milton, Massachusetts, you can get premade meals that will feed you for much less money.

Not to mention, the state is paying $180 per night at Fairfield Inn Boston Dedham — a hotel that normally charges around $129 per night, according to CBS Boston.

If only someone in our state had read The Art of the Deal before getting ripped off with these absurd prices.

The state needs to re-negotiate these ripoff prices. 


4.  Pecking Order

As long as the cap on the number of families who can use state shelters exists, preference in the shelter system should be based on who has lived in the area the longest. That is to say, if the level approaches the cap, the state should give preference to longtime residents to ensure they don’t go homeless. After all, our shelter system is overburdened, and people coming here for free housing could go to another state and likely get some form of shelter from a private charity. 


5.  Bring Back Single-Use Plastic Bottles

If people living in state shelters need non-tap water, then shouldn’t the state buy them bottled water?

Of course.

Yet according to state policy, state officials can’t do that.

Massachusetts state government has a self-imposed ban on the use of single-use plastic bottles. It’s a dumb ban that won’t do much to reduce plastic waste.

Governor Maura Healey should reverse the September 2023 executive order that made it happen; the order prevents vendors who do business with the state from providing beverages in single-use plastic bottles as a part of state contracts.

Single-use plastics are an effective, sanitary way to provide people with beverages — be it bottled water, juices, or milk. The free market needs to find a better, cheaper alternative to single-use plastics if we’re ever going to have an alternative. Until then, we should keep using single-use plastics, including bottles.

If the state wants to deliver services in an affordable, effective manner, it shouldn’t arbitrarily limit its beverage options based on the container. The last thing we need is the state overpaying for expensive boxed water because 24-packs of generic brand plastic water bottles aren’t good enough.


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