Local officials from Chelsea say they were taken by surprise last week by a late-night drop-off of some 30 migrants, including children.
Alex Train, director of Housing and Community Development for the city of Chelsea, said Monday that the group was dropped off about 10 p.m. on Wednesday after the state was overwhelmed by a number of migrants arriving that day to its newly opened Welcome Center in Allston.
Train said La Colaborativa, Chelsea’s main partner to help new migrants, worked to “provide basic aid, emergency food assistance, access to basic health care, and ultimately emergency shelter.” He said the group included families with medical issues and suffering trauma from their journey. He called the situation a “full-scale humanitarian crisis.”
Whether or not staff from the nonprofit La Colaborativa was aware of their arrival is up for debate. Gladys Vega, head of the social-services nonprofit, originally told members of the media that she wasn’t given a heads-up about their arrival.
But state officials told GBH News that the state Office of Refugees and Immigrants “had multiple conversations with La Colaborativa about their capacity and willingness to support these families.”
“We have been working closely with La Colaborativa since last week on an orderly process to transition families to hotels,” state officials told GBH News on Monday in a statement released by Gov. Maura Healey's office.
Healey’s office says the state is contracting with La Colaborativa to provide hotel rooms for homeless families under the Emergency Assistance program, with costs covered by the state. Nearly 70 municipalities across the state are hosting families needing emergency assistance, state officials said.
The governor’s office said it continues to work with local and federal partners and community organizations to expand capacity of the emergency assistance system and find long-term solutions. In a high-cost state like Massachusetts, housing can be hard to find — even in the short term.
La Colaborativa is currently helping temporarily house new arrivals in hotels in Everett, Saugus, Quincy and other areas. The state’s emergency shelter system is strained by the regional housing affordability crisis, and the lack of capacity is warranting the opening of new facilities, like Joint Base Cape Cod.
“Due to a critical shortage of available shelter beds and an increase in demand, we have had to use hotels and motels as a temporary, last resort to ensure families have safe housing,” the statement from Healey’s office continued. “The Family Welcome Center in Allston remains open as a central intake center, and we are connecting families with shelter as quickly as possible – whether that’s at Joint Base Cape Cod, hotels or other sites based on availability.”
Officials from La Colaborativa declined to comment, saying that “due to rapid ongoing development of the situation and the sensitive nature of the cases, the state had asked the organization to refrain from interviews.”
The nonprofit shared Instagram posts last week saying that, in just three days, its triage department “provided wraparound services for 250 individuals,” most of whom are Haitian. “Those services include food, housing, health assessments, and rapid reemployment.” Photos posted show families eating and children coloring at the organization’s offices in Chelsea.
The Rev. Myrlande Desrosier, who heads the Everett Haitian Community Center, said she sent members of her team to Chelsea on Wednesday night when she heard La Colaborativa needed help.
“Three things, people ask for. The first thing is spiritual support for the trauma. Secondly, people ask for some Haitian food. And the third is the housing,” she said. “In the beginning it’s like, ‘Let’s just get them some food.’ Many had not eaten in quite some time.”
During the first two days, she said at least one woman needed medical care.
“There was some cases, at least one of emergency pregnancy issues,” said Desrosiers.
Train said many migrants have arrived in Massachusetts after being bused by Republican governors to New York City and eventually traveling north to Boston.
“The city, La Colaborativa and our community-based partners barely sufficient resources to provide ample services for our existing residents, so this is truly outstripping our resource levels at this point, warranting state and federal resources,” he said.
Train said the city was surprised by the arrivals, but the state has no way of predicting the numbers for planning purposes.
“We see the state partners here doing the best they can with the systems that they have,'' he said. "Unfortunately, those systems are not at adequate capacity don't have enough resources and need to be rapidly scaled. And what occurred Wednesday night was a major byproduct of that.”