As communities in Massachusetts grapple with an influx in migrant families coming into the state, aid workers in some overstretched cities and towns hope the state will hear them on providing more aid, or changing the way the state administers its programs.
The Massachusetts House and Senate failed to reach a compromise on Wednesday on how to spend $250 million in funding for the state’s emergency shelter system. That effectively stalled the spending bill and pushed it to informal sessions, which leaves it in a precarious position until formal sessions resume Jan. 3, 2024.
Adam Chapdelaine, the executive director of the Massachusetts Municipal Association, said additional funding during this time is critical for local cities and towns.
"I would say the funding is urgent from the humanitarian point of view, where the social services, the mental health services, the hygienic products, the nutritional needs of these residents need to be met living in these hotels, motels, these sheltering sites," he said.
Woburn Mayor Scott Galvin said his community is currently housing 150 families in four hotels around the city. That includes around 100 students that are under the age of five that will enter the school system next year.
"It's a challenge because these young children, they still may have some language barriers, or other issues just from from the nature of their hardships," he said. "So it's a challenge for teachers. It's a challenge for the school system."
Volunteer and charity groups have been stepping up to try to meet the needs of families entering the city — including Woburn's United Methodist Church.
Pastor Bill Hoch said the church community has been pitching in to help with things like food, clothing and diapers for parents with infants or toddlers.
"You're dealing with a population of people who are traumatized, who are trying to learn a new country, a new language. And I can't even imagine doing that and being homeless," he said. "We're dealing with a lot of families, a lot of young children, pregnant moms. And to come to a country like the United States and not be provided housing would make it almost impossible for them to integrate into society and find jobs."
He said he disagrees with the state's decision to put a cap on the emergency shelter system, which puts many new migrants and homeless people in Massachusetts on a waitlist as they wait for spots to open up. He wants to see the state invest more in making sure those people have a place to stay.
"When we put a cap on housing services and for families, particularly in light of this new flux of folks from other countries, it creates a dynamic of 'because of these people, we can't provide housing services to other people' — which essentially pits one group of low-income people against another group of low-income people," he said. "We ought to be able to do better and find a way to fund these programs."
Galvin, Woburn's mayor, said the state's current right-to-shelter law was not designed to handle such a large number of people coming into the state.
"I think when the Legislature passed it back in the ’80s, it was well-intentioned and it really served its purpose," he said. "It served its purpose for Massachusetts residents who became homeless and needed shelter. That law never envisioned the type of influx of homeless people that we have [now]."
Marianne Staid is the director of resident support services at House of Hope, a shelter in Lowell that houses 58 families across three buildings in the city.
She said capacity at local shelters has been a growing issue over the last few years, with larger numbers of people coming in from Haiti and South or Central America.
"Our shelters are always full now, where before the rooms wouldn't necessarily fill up immediately," she said. "We also have support staff that are sending out the meals, cleaning up, sanitizing, answering the phone. So finding people to work [all the shifts] is sometimes an issue."
The Legislature's failure to approve the spending bill means it can be delayed by any one lawmaker’s objection over the next seven weeks.