State Officials Warn Emergency Shelters Will Run Out of Space for New Families by March

State Housing and Economic Development Secretary Michael Kennealy speaks in Haverhill during a 2021 visit to formally open affordable housing units. (WHAV News photograph.)

By Sam Drysdale and Chris Lisinski

The Baker administration says it expects the state’s emergency assistance shelter system will burn through available money and no longer be able to guarantee spots for eligible families by late March—a deadline one top lawmaker described as “a little bit arbitrary.”

Escalating a weeks-long push for an injection of state dollars amid an influx of families in need, top Baker administration deputies formally warned lawmakers in a letter on Wednesday that within 90 days, the Department of Housing and Community Development “will not be able to immediately place all eligible families into [emergency assistance] shelter.”

The executive branch will be able to continue operating its existing network of 3,500 shelter units, but without additional funding, it will need to cease efforts to expand the number of available shelter units, Housing and Economic Development Secretary Mike Kennealy and Department of Housing and Community Development Undersecretary Jennifer Maddox wrote.

“At that time, placements of new families into shelter will be possible solely upon availability of suitable shelter units,” the letter said of the 90-day deadline. “Without adequate appropriations to expand capacity, it is probable that the EA system will be unable to accommodate families who otherwise would be forced to remain in unsafe situations or sleep in cars, emergency rooms or other places not intended for human habitation.”

Gov. Charlie Baker filed legislation Nov. 18 asking lawmakers to put $130 million toward standing up more than 1,300 emergency shelter units, offering provider rate increases, paying for a central intake center for newly arrived families and helping place students in local schools. The bill is still pending before the House Ways and Means Committee, whose chairman, Aaron Michlewitz, called 90 days “a very arbitrary number.”

Baker administration officials said in their letter that the Emergency Assistance family shelter system has been overwhelmed in recent months due to “both a challenging housing market for long-time residents and new arrivals into the state as a result of federal immigration policy.”

Michlewitz also pointed out that Gov.-elect Maura Healey will take over atop the executive branch on Thursday. “We want to make sure that those folks have an opportunity to be part of the discussion as they’ll certainly be part of the implementation,” the Boston Democrat said.

Comments are closed.