Seaport’s Fort Point neighborhood selected to host migrant families, Governor Healey says

A Fort Point office building in the Seaport has been selected as the next overflow shelter site for migrant families, Gov. Maura Healey confirmed as the state struggles to house the influx of new arrivals.

United Way of Massachusetts Bay, a nonprofit working with the state to open safety-net sites for migrant and homeless families, plans to get the new shelter up and running “as soon as possible,” at 24 Farnsworth St. in Boston, Healey said.

“We’re working through all of that,” Healey told reporters, while declining to give an exact time frame for when families would begin to move in. “I just don’t know how long it’s going to take to get everything operationalized and work things out with the community, work things out with the city.”

The governor said that while the site was ultimately selected by United Way, her administration supports the use of the space, “because we need to continue to find safe housing for people.”

“We continue to be in dialogue with the community and with the city,” Healey said.

A spokesperson for the governor added that United Way was finalizing details for the site and final confirmation would come from them.

“The United Way and the state are continuing our due diligence with local officials to evaluate the viability of a safety net shelter site at 24 Farnsworth St. and are seeking to finalize and share details with the neighborhood as soon as tomorrow evening,” United Way spokesperson Brigid Boyd said.

“The safety net shelter site is a public health intervention that would provide urgently needed temporary overnight shelter to eligible families and pregnant women. At this time, an opening date has not yet been determined,” she added.

Prior to the governor’s confirmation Monday, the state and United Way had been eying the Seaport office building, owned by the Unitarian Universalist Association, as a temporary space for migrant families for weeks.

The state’s shelter system, strained by the influx of newly arrived migrant families, maxed out at 7,500 families in November, with more than 600 on the waiting list. United Way has been opening safety-net sites, funded by a $5 million state grant, to capture some of the overflow

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When Fort Point neighbors were informed of the potential for opening a safety-net site there on Feb. 8, a larger overflow space that opened at the Roxbury Melnea A. Cass Recreational Complex was quickly reaching its 400-person capacity, a week after it was opened by the state, Mayor Michelle Wu said at the time.

Plans to convert roughly 10,000 square feet of private office space into a migrant shelter blindsided some Fort Point neighbors, and were quickly met with opposition from several South Boston elected officials, who relayed concerns with the lack of bathroom and shower facilities on site.

The governor’s office held a Monday morning call with South Boston elected officials to inform them plans were moving forward at the site. Participants included Lt. Gov. Kim Driscoll, U.S. Rep. Stephen Lynch, state Sen. Nick Collins, state Rep. David Biele, and City Councilor Ed Flynn.

South Boston lawmakers on the call expressed concerns around plans to have migrant and homeless families shower off-site at a YMCA, stating that while the two likely options, the Wang YMCA of Chinatown and the Huntington Avenue YMCA near Northeastern University are both relatively close, there are traffic and other logical challenges around getting there frequently, a source said.

Other concerns revolved around possible asbestos in the selected building, which was brought up by a real estate group, and the lack of community input prior to the selection. The group of South Boston lawmakers on the call had been pushing for a community meeting about the site for weeks, but nothing had been scheduled.

State and city officials apparently agreed to hold a meeting with residents of Fort Point and the South Boston waterfront in the near future, but no date has been set, a source said.

Thomas Ready of the Fort Point Neighborhood Association said his group was informed by the city’s office of neighborhood services on Feb. 8 that the state was considering using an office building for a shelter in that neighborhood.

The association submitted a number of questions to city and state officials the following day, with the caveat that they “be forwarded to the Healey administration, as well as a request for a state contact to engage with,” he said.

“No one from the administration has been named as someone for community to work with and our questions remain unanswered,” Ready said.

The selected office building serves as the headquarters for the Unitarian Universalist Association, which leases space to several tenants, including a book publisher and architectural firm, that will continue to operate during what a UUA spokesperson previously said would be a “short-term” migrant shelter use.

UUA spokesperson Suzanne Morse, who previously stated the liberal religious organization “offered a portion of our space that is currently vacant for temporary use as a shelter for families in need,” said Monday that United Way is leading the evaluation process, “which is still underway.”

Morse deferred further comment to United Way.

The building is located on a narrow, dead-end street that includes commercial properties, condominiums and a parking garage.

Mayor Wu told reporters late Monday morning that she was not informed that the Fort Point building had been officially selected for migrant overflow shelter, and according to a source, was not on the Healey administration’s call with officials.

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