More overflow shelter sites coming ‘soon,’ Housing Secretary says

The state will open more overflow space for those families excluded from Emergency Assistance shelter by overcrowding, according to the Secretary of Housing and Livable Communities.

Ed Augustus, the former Worcester City Manager elevated to the new cabinet level position created by Gov. Maura Healey earlier this year, said that the at-capacity condition of the shelter system will require additional — temporary — overflow space while the state’s migrant crisis continues.

“We know we need some overflow sites, the use of the state office buildings are really just a short term bridge until we can get some of these overflow sites online,” he said on WCVB. in an interview broadcast Sunday.

For weeks now the state has been at or near the 7,500 family shelter capacity set by Gov. Maura Healey as of November 1, with more eligible families entering the system daily. Those families unable to secure shelter have been placed on a waiting list. Beginning last week, a limited number were put up in an overflow shelter set up in conference rooms at the state’s Transportation Building in Boston.

According to Augustus, extra space for families waiting on the shelter system is a necessity. Without identifying any locations, the Housing Secretary said additional overflow sites should open “in a few days.”

“We don’t want families out in the cold as they are waiting on the waitlists,” he said. “We’ll have some of those overflow sites online very shortly.”

In August, Healey declared that so many migrants were crossing the U.S. border and then traveling to Massachusetts that a state of emergency existed across the Bay State. She then asked the Legislature to spend an additional $250 million on the Emergency Assistance program to help cover the cost of housing so many additional families.

House lawmakers passed a 2023 close-out budget that included the governor’s requested quarter-billion, The Senate passed a different version of the spending bill and the two were not reconciled before the scheduled end of formal legislative sessions for the year. The bill now sits in a joint conference committee.

“We desperately need the supplemental budget appropriation that the governor proposed back in September,” Augustus said. “It’s critical to provide the level of service that we’re providing for the 7,500 families that are in the shelter system right now.”

Also dragging on the governor’s plans to respond to the crisis has been the lack of support from the federal government.

Healey has repeatedly urged lawmakers in Washington D.C. to help fund the state’s response to the migrant crisis — only to have her pleas, for the most part, fall on deaf ears. A divided Congress has been unable to tackle meaningful immigration legislation or address an influx of migrants at the borders.

In the interim, according to Augustus, while the EOHLC has managed to help 450 families leave the shelter system since September 1, everyday another 40 to 50 arrive in Massachusetts, which is alone among the 50 U.S. states in guaranteeing a right to housing for pregnant women and families with small children.

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