Sun. May 19th, 2024

Homeless shelters in Massachusetts raise concerns as lawmakers consider historic limit to family stays

By 37ci3 Apr22,2024

Homeless shelter providers in Massachusetts are raising concerns as lawmakers move to pass legislation that would limit stays to nine months for the first time in the state’s 40-year history of “right to shelter” law.

Massachusetts is the only state that has granted asylum to families and pregnant women since 1983. But the system has been under historic strain due to the influx of migrant families and the growing number of Massachusetts families displaced in increasingly unaffordable conditions. says the housing market, public authorities and community leaders. According to the Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless, just over half of the 7,500 families in the state’s emergency shelter system are recent arrivals to the state as refugees or migrants.

“The shelter system is overwhelmed and we as a provider can’t handle it,” said Mark DeJoie, CEO of Centerboard, one of the largest emergency shelter providers in the state.

The Massachusetts House of Representatives passed a new spending bill in March that outlines a nearly billion-dollar plan to address the asylum crisis. After a short time, the Senate upgraded to a new version, requiring the leaders of the chambers to enter into negotiations to resolve their differences. Both bills would put a nine-month limit on stays in emergency shelters, but key points include what kind of extensions families can be granted and how the proposals will be funded.

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Aaron Michlewitz, who attended the talks, said he believed a resolution could be reached on the differences between the proposals, adding that Massachusetts’ system would still be more generous than most states. accepts a nine-month period of stay.

“It’s still one of the most generous programs, maybe the most generous in the country in terms of what it provides,” Mishlevit said. “We’ve been talking for months here in Massachusetts,” he said.

Shelter directors hope the legislation will include meaningful extensions of the first nine months for families in crisis because the average stay for families in the system is nearly twice as long, at about 16 months, according to the Housing and Community Services Executive, which oversees the state’s emergency shelter program. .

“There are many families who stay in shelters for longer than 14 months, and it has nothing to do with people wanting to leave the shelter. It’s about the ability to leave,” said Shiela Moore, CEO of Hildebrand Family Self-Help Center, Inc., a Boston-area shelter provider.

Hildebrand currently houses about 140 families in Cambridge units, which include both apartment-style units and larger, congregate homes where families share a room and share bathrooms, kitchens and living areas with other families. More than 80 families have been there for nine months or more, Moore said.

In October, Democratic Gov. Maura Healey, limited the number of shelter units to 7,500said it was necessary because continuing to expand the asylum program would be “unsustainable.”

Maura Healey
Maura Healey during a press conference in Boston on January 31. Steven Senne / AP file

The cap comes after a surge in families eligible for shelter. As of March 2022, there were only 3,000 families in the state system, the Housing and Community Services Executive said. A year later, fewer than 4,000 families were placed in the system. As of April of this year, the shelters supported nearly 7,500 families, with more than 3,500 staying in the system’s traditional units and the rest in hotels. As of earlier this month, there were an additional 736 families on the waiting list for emergency shelter.

Shelter managers say the influx of migrant families has put stress on an already struggling system.

“There is an immigration and human crisis,” said Centerboard’s DeJoie. “Our asylum system was never designed to handle both. We provide shelter, but the crisis that came to our front door, we were not equipped for it.

DeJoie added that it is important for the federal government to step up to support the unique needs of migrant families, including obtaining the federal authorization necessary for migrants to apply for jobs in the United States.

“We, Massachusetts and the rest of the country, cannot do this without the support of the federal government. It’s just not possible,” he said.

Elizabeth Sweet, executive director of the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy (MIRA) Coalition, said the federal government needs to improve its system for issuing work permits to migrant families — a process that can take a year or more in some cases. officials say. He added that many families in Massachusetts’ shelter system are there because they can’t begin looking for job opportunities until they are granted permission.

“New immigrants don’t want to stay in hotels and motels,” Sweet said. “They don’t want to depend on state-run shelters. They want to work and provide for themselves.”

“For a lot of these people, they’re waiting a few months before they get to the point where they can actually start looking for work,” he said.

Asked about the lack of action by lawmakers in Washington on immigration, U.S. Rep. Stephen F. Lynch, D-Mass., highlighted the dysfunction in Congress over a bipartisan border security bill suddenly pushed by Senate Republicans.

A bill to impose tougher immigration and asylum laws, collapsed in February After criticism from key GOP lawmakers and Donald Trump.

“I personally welcome the opportunity to vote for a smart and bipartisan measure to strengthen border restrictions,” Lynch said. “I believe the Senate has come up with a workable bill that could work with some changes, and I think we have the vote for it. “Unfortunately, there are some who prefer to spread propaganda rather than solve the problem.”

While shelter leaders worry about the possibility of families being forced out before they can find a new place, they support lawmakers’ efforts to find ways to fix the situation as the system continues to collapse.

Danielle Ferrier, CEO of Boston-headquartered major shelter provider Heading Home, which currently has 350 units fully booked, said there needs to be “some sort of guardrail” to keep the system from spiraling out of control.

“We have to find something that looks as reasonable, fiscally responsible, sustainable and humane as possible,” he said.

Ferrier said he would not support the original bill passed by the state House, which would have allowed families only one three-month extension in state shelters after the first nine months have expired. After that, if they don’t find a home, the families will actually be put on the street, he said. Instead, Ferrier would roll back the time limit, which included multiple extensions for families who tried to leave the system but couldn’t.

“What I believe is a very clear nine months and then there’s a waiver process where we can say this family almost has an apartment. We will not drive them out today. We’ll make sure they get that apartment, right?’ Ferrier said.

“You have to create room for the system to be humane and flexible to work,” he said.

Moore echoed Ferrier’s sentiments, saying he understands something needs to be done to relieve the burdens on the system, but families shouldn’t be abandoned in the process.

“I’m very blunt and I’m realistic, we all have budgets to manage,” Moore said. “But I hope the legislation will be flexible enough to make the necessary adjustments so people don’t fall through the cracks.”

Source link

By 37ci3

Related Post

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *