Gov. Maura Healey announced that, by the end of October, the state will no longer be able to add additional units to its emergency shelter system for families experiencing homelessness. For months, the state’s emergency family shelter system has been expanding at an unsustainable rate to meet rising demand driven by increasing numbers of newly arriving migrant families and slower exits of families in long-term emergency shelter stays. The state will not be able to accommodate more than 7,500 families, or approximately 24000 individuals, and will likely hit this number by the end of the month.
As of October 16, there are nearly 7,000 families with children and pregnant women in emergency shelter, including newly arrived migrant families and longtime Massachusetts residents. About half of the individuals in emergency shelter are children.
Governor Healey also announced several actions that her administration is taking ahead of this next phase of the emergency shelter system, including appointing Lieutenant General L. Scott Rice as Emergency Assistance Director and prioritizing helping families who have been in shelter long-term to exit into more permanent housing options.
“For months now, we have been expanding shelter capacity at an unsustainable rate to meet rising demand. Despite the heroic work of public officials, shelter providers and the National Guard, we have reached a point where we can no longer safely or responsibly expand,” said Governor Maura Healey. “Lt. General Rice has extensive experience leading large scale emergency management operations, and we are confident he is the right person to lead us through this new phase of the emergency shelter system. We will continue to help families exit shelter and move into more permanent housing options, connect those who are eligible with work opportunities to support their families, and advocate for the federal government to step up and address this federal problem.”
“The Governor and I understand the strain that has been placed on Massachusetts communities over the past year as we have all come together to ensure that families have access to the shelter and resources they need. Lt. General Rice will be a valuable resource for local officials as we enter this new phase of the emergency shelter program,” said Lieutenant Governor Driscoll. “Together, we will move forward on our efforts to connect families with work and permanent housing, while continuing to call on the federal government to help us meet this moment.”
Emergency Assistance Director
Governor Healey has appointed Lieutenant General Leon Scott Rice as Emergency Assistance Director. In this role, Lt. General Rice will oversee management and coordination of the emergency shelter system, including leading the administration’s Incident Command Team, which was launched in May and includes representatives from multiple state agencies. He will be responsible for implementing this new phase of the emergency shelter system, coordinating directly with local, state and federal officials and other key stakeholders, and updating the Governor and Lieutenant Governor on daily developments.
Lt. General Rice has more than 40 years of experience with the United States Air Force and Air National Guard, retiring as a Lt. General and disabled veteran in 2020. He was the Director of the Air National Guard from 2016-2020, managing a $11.5 billion budget and more than 100,000 personnel located in every U.S. state and territory. He also served as the Adjutant General (TAG) of the Massachusetts National Guard from 2012-2016, across two gubernatorial administrations. In this role, he led emergency response and post-disaster recovery efforts for Hurricane Sandy, Hurricane Irene, the Boston Marathon Bombing and ice storms.
“I’m honored that Governor Healey and Lieutenant Governor Driscoll have placed their faith in me to lead this critical mission to ensure the safety and wellbeing of families in Massachusetts,” said Lieutenant General Rice. “I’ve spent my career leading large scale organizations and emergency response operations, and I’ve learned that communication and partnership are key to meeting any challenge. This is the approach that I will bring to this new role, and I look forward to working closely with our local, state and federal partners each step of the way.”
Prioritizing Exits from Shelter
Beginning November 1, 2023, the state will no longer be able to add new shelter units. At this time, families seeking shelter will be assessed and those with high needs, such as health and safety risks, will be prioritized for placement. Families who are not immediately connected with shelter will be placed on a waiting list.
The state will be bolstering efforts to assist families with transitioning to stable housing, including assessing families who have been in shelter long-term — over 15 months— and prioritizing helping them exit the shelter system, which is intended to be a short-term, emergency option. The administration will be expanding support for rapid rehousing and rental assistance initiatives, such as HomeBASE, to support these transitions. The HomeBASE program helps eligible homeless families pay their first/last month’s rent and security deposits, moving expenses, stipends to help with ongoing housing costs, and other costs that can help families stabilize an existing housing situation or stably rehouse. The state is also calling on the federal government, faith-based organizations and other non-government organizations to help support homeless families.
Other services will still be provided for families seeking emergency shelter, including at the Family Welcome Centers. Families will be assessed for basic needs and offered the opportunity to apply for public benefits through the Department of Transitional Assistance, receive necessities including diapers, hygiene products, and formula, and be referred to community-based resources.
Connecting Shelter Residents with Work Opportunities
A key piece of helping families move out of shelter is connecting them with jobs. With the business community asking for assistance filling open jobs across the state, the administration has launched two new programs to get shelter residents working.
The first is a partnership with Commonwealth Corporation Foundation to develop a new job skills training program to connect businesses to individuals in shelter who are still waiting for their work authorization but looking to gain on-the-job training and skills development. This new program is beginning as a pilot, starting with Salem but with interest in building business partnerships in other shelters and communities over time.
The second program connects MassHire Regional Workforce Boards and careers centers to shelters statewide with the goal of assessing skills and work readiness of residents who have their work authorization. The initial phase of this new program is focused on 14 shelter sites across the state, representing approximately 1,500 families.
The program is a ready showing results. MassHire South Shore is working with Dunkin Donuts to fill 30 employment openings and coordinating with Plymouth Area Coalition shelter provider to connect shelter residents to jobs. MassHire North Central started working with a local shelter that connected one individual with employment at a retail store in Leominster.
Both programs are looking for employers and businesses who want to be partners in these efforts that will help them meet their workforce needs. Interested employers and businesses should contact [email protected].
These new program builds on the four prongs of legal services work the administration has been conducting for months in shelters:
1. Immigrant Assistance Services: In July, the administration launched the Immigrant Assistance Services (IAS) Program led by the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition (MIRA). The IAS program currently operates largely in staffed shelters, assisting with case management and work authorization, asylum, and Temporary Protected Status applications.
2. Resettlement Agencies Services: In September, the administration launched additional legal aid services led by resettlement agencies. This program focuses on new arrivals who, because of recent changes in federal policy and because these families entered at the border using the CBP1 app, can immediately apply for work authorization.
3. Pro Bono Program: Beginning on October 17, the administration will also launch a Pro Bono Program with immigration organizations to provide services for more than 100 families at large shelters and
4. Legal Services Contract: In late October, the administration will also begin contracting with five legal services agencies to provide services in 25 shelter sites across the state.
The United Way Migrant Relief Fund also supports the essential needs of migrant families, including temporary accommodations, food, clothing, diapers, hygiene items, transportation, health screenings, translation services, ESOL classes and legal assistance. The fund has raised $1.2 million since it was launched in August. More information can be found at unitedwaymassbay.org/migrantrelief.
Governor Healey will continue to use every tool at her disposal to advocate for federal assistance to this federal problem. She has made multiple requests to Department of Homeland Security Secretary (DHS) Alejandro Mayorkas for federal funding and improvements to the work authorization process. She was joined by others from the Attorney General, the State Legislature, the Mass. Business Association, the Boston Archdiocese, and the Association of Independent Colleges and Universities in Massachusetts. The Governor also conveyed these requests in meetings with the White House Chief of Staff last week and with Secretary Mayorkas in August, as well as a request for the federal government to stand up a congregate care site. Last week, a DHS consultant team visited Massachusetts to evaluate the situation, holding extensive meetings with administration officials over two days and visiting shelters and a Family Welcome Center.
Through its 1115 waiver, MassHealth is requesting federal funding for up to six months of temporary housing assistance and other supports for families and pregnant individuals, including newly arrived immigrants, who are enrolled as MassHealth members, in emergency shelter. These supports include case management and referrals to medical, social, and educational services.