Just a hundred feet from an American flag, and a hundred feet in the other direction from automatic doors letting in cold Boston air, Chrisla lay on a blue and red blanket donning a ski hat reading “back country.”
Chrisla, who didn’t want to give her last name, is several months pregnant and looks uncomfortable, trying to wedge things under her head to create a pillow. The 30-year-old, originally from Haiti, fielded constant cries of “Mama!” from her 4-year-old daughter and 2-year-old son. Her husband sat silently next to her on a hard airport chair.
She’s one of hundreds of migrants who have recently spent the night at Boston Logan International Airport.
The state insists that it is working hard to get migrant families sheltered.
“The state is evaluating numerous facilities in Boston and across the state, including the state-owned Melnea Cass Recreation Center, as temporary safety-net sites for families experiencing homelessness, especially those staying at Logan Airport overnight,” said Emergency Assistance Director General Scott Rice in a statement on Monday.
“We have been in close discussions with Roxbury elected officials, the Roxbury community, and the City of Boston about this potential temporary site, including how to ensure the continuation of recreation programs,” he added.
Rice said that the emergency shelter program is currently at capacity, and there is an “urgent need” for additional safety net sites.
The number of families in the emergency shelter system who entered as migrants is 3,623, as of Thursday. That’s about 48% of families in the system — the rest are unhoused residents. That is according to a required part of the $3.1 billion supplemental budget Healey signed last year, which included funds to emergency shelters.
The state said “most families” who had been staying at the airport were connected with privately funded hotel rooms over the weekend. They said family welcome centers provide transportation for the migrants at Logan Airport and tell them that the airport is not a shelter.
But on Saturday, Chisla’s family did spend the night. They’d been in the airport since 5 p.m. on Saturday. She said in Spanish that they were briefly at Boston Medical Center, showing a packet of paperwork in Haitian Creole. She didn’t want to elaborate. Back at the airport, she said they were just waiting: That “they hadn’t seen anyone from any groups,” and they would be there 'til at least morning. When GBH News left the airport shortly before midnight, the family seemed to be the only one sleeping in Terminal E.
A small bag with a plastic pool blow-up mat from Good Samaritans sat near them, with a note: "Welcome to the US! I hope these mattresses and shirt and socks can help. Good luck!" No one had the energy to blow it up.
Chrisla and the children, whose names she declined to provide, lay on the blanket, covered by a second fleece. They had one canvas bag, one backpack, a black duffel bag and a wheeled suitcase nearby. A stuffed turtle looked out the window near their heads.
The family arrived this week from Texas, with humanitarian parole. They traveled from Haiti to the Dominican Republic, then Chile, in 2017. This winter they decided to come north, traveling through Mexico.
“We just wanted a new, better life,” she said. Asked how it was to travel all that way to Texas, she just said, “not easy,” and sighed.
The family knows no one in Boston.
“I heard there were groups here to help me to find work and to get paperwork for employment,” she said in Spanish.
The children were curious and found ways to stay busy. The girl squeezed a juice box into a Dunkin cup. The little boy was interested in a box of fallen crayons.
When they finished eating, the girl picked up some of their garbage. A man walking by asked her, “Are you looking for the trash can?” She nodded, and he pointed, smiling. She then took multiple trips to the bin. It was as tall as she is. She tossed in the trash, skipped back so hard her purple and pink beaded braids bounced — and she giggled.
The whole family wore coats and hats the entire time, and Chrisla coughed and blew her nose constantly.
Chrisla hoped someone would come to help in the morning, adding that she was going to rest.
For the families in the past week who have been picked up by nonprofits heading family welcome centers, hotel rooms have been funded by private philanthropy, not the state. A request to Brazilian Worker Center in Allston, a nonprofit heading up one of the family welcome centers, went unanswered.
The state said that its new shelter at the Cass Center will involve hiring more staff, and will provide food, security, legal, medical and transportation help to migrants that go there. They’re developing a “streamlined process” for families who qualify for the site to “check in” each day. The facility would cease operations by May 31, so it can reopen as a recreation center for the summer.
United Way of Massachusetts is also helping to provide shelter to immigrants.
“As of today, the SafetyNet Shelter grant program has launched six sites that accommodate a total of 89 families in total per night. We have a dozen additional sites in our pipeline, and we are hoping to establish at least four more from that pipeline, to help Massachusetts meet this important moment,” said communications director Brigid Boyd. The program is supporting overflow options for the strained emergency shelter system. People currently stay at one of six locations for an average of five days.