Massachusetts is running out of shelter beds for families, including migrants from other states

BOSTON (AP) — Massachusetts shelters are being pushed past their capacity, running out of beds for families, including migrants arriving from other states and residents weathering a housing crunch right before winter, said Democratic Gov. Maura Healey.

On Thursday the state crossed a threshold set by Healey of 7,500 families seeking placement in emergency shelters. Healey has said that families seeking shelter will be put on a waitlist once the state reaches the cap.

Families will continue to be placed in shelters until the end of Thursday, according to the administration.

“Beginning tomorrow, families will be placed into shelter as units become available. If there are no available shelter units, families determined eligible for emergency assistance will be placed on a waitlist,” Emergency Assistance Director General Scott Rice said in statement.

He said the administration will continue to work with community organizations to connect families with “safe, overnight options.”

Healey has said she doesn’t want to see families out on the street but that the state has reached its shelter capacity. The spike in demand is being driven in part by migrant families entering the state.

Many of the migrants are arriving from other states. Some states led by Republicans — including Texas and Florida — have bused or flown immigrants to states and cities led by Democrats, including California, Massachusetts, New York and Chicago.

New York City Mayor Eric Adams has announced he is limiting shelter stays for migrant families with children to 60 days. In Chicago, officials have looked to relocate migrants seeking asylum from police stations and the city’s airports to winterized camps with massive tents.

Critics argue Healey’s decision to cap shelter placements violates the state’s “right-to-shelter” law. Under the four-decade-old law, Massachusetts is legally required to provide emergency shelter to eligible families.

Under Healey’s plan, women, young children and those with acute medical needs and health issues will be given priority. The state is also considering limiting how long a family can stay in a shelter, Healey said.

With winter not far off, officials are scrambling to prevent families from ending up on the street. On Tuesday, Healey announced a $5 million grant program to help local organizations create overnight shelter for families and pregnant individuals with no other options. Healey has also said she’s pressing federal officials to speed up the process by which migrants can get work authorizations and ultimately exit the shelter system to free up more space.

On Wednesday the Massachusetts House approved a bill for $50 million to set up one or more locations where homeless families could find temporary refuge while they wait for a shelter space.

Democratic House Speaker Ronald Mariano said that could be a single large site like the Hynes Convention Center in Boston or smaller sites spread around the state.

“Where are these people going to go?” Mariano said Wednesday.

For families denied shelter, the state has made a flyer that suggests a handful of options, the first being to “return to the last safe place you stayed.”

Denying families emergency shelter could force some into unsafe living conditions, said Kelly Turley, director of the Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless.

She and other homeless advocates have pressed lawmakers to approve money for a large living site similar to what Mariano described.

Advocates welcoming new migrants to the state say they’re concerned about how to help those with no friends or family and nowhere to stay.

Homeless families are housed in hundreds of locations in 90 cities and towns in a range of facilities, from traditional shelters to temporary sites like college dorms.

Families will be offered shelter based on their position on the waitlist, according to guidance issued last week by the The state Executive Office of Housing and Livable Communities.

Top priority will be given to families at imminent risk of domestic violence or who have an infant up to 3 months old, have family members with an immunocompromised condition, are experiencing a high-risk pregnancy or who include a family member with a medical device, specifically a tracheostomy tube. Additional priority levels will take into account the age and medical needs of family members.

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