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Sunday, December 3, 2023

Candlelight vigil planned at State House for migrants, homeless

A coalition supporting homeless people and a law group plan to hold a candlelight vigil outside the State House Monday afternoon to call on Gov. Maura Healey to create a state-funded overflow site for families placed on a waitlist for emergency shelter placement.

Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless and the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute said shelter providers, communities leaders, faith groups, and families will gather in front of the State House just days after legislators ended formal law making for the year without striking a deal on a bill that included $250 million in shelter aid.

The two groups said state officials should “act quickly so that no child has to sleep out in the cold,” including by establishing an overflow site and advancing the shelter funding.

“These are important first steps while the Administration, the Legislature, community-based organizations, and other stakeholders work together to rapidly scale up longer-term shelter sites, homelessness prevention resources, permanent housing opportunities, and wraparound supports,” the groups said in an event advisory.

Healey last month capped the number of families who can stay in Massachusetts’ emergency shelter system to 7,500 in the face of an influx of migrants. The administration argued there was neither the space, funding, nor personnel to keep expanding the shelter system through a sweeping net of hotels and motels.

The state quickly hit the cap earlier this month, triggering the creation of a waitlist for those who continue to apply for temporary housing. But many have warned that there is nowhere for families on the waitlist to go, raising the possibility that people will find themselves outside as temperatures drop.

There were 7,505 families in shelter as of Friday, with 3,809 in hotels and motels, 3,638 at traditional sites, and 58 in temporary locations like Joint Base Cape Cod or a Quincy college dorm room, according to state data.

Healey has previously called on the federal government to set up an overflow site.

“We continue to call on the federal government to stand up a large scale overflow site, and we are working with the United Way and community partners on short-term overflow options,” Healey spokesperson Karissa Hand said, referring to a grant program for overnight shelters.

As the shelters struggled, Healey asked lawmakers earlier this year to approve $250 million for the system as part of a multi-billion spending bill that closed the books on fiscal year 2023.

The extra dollars for shelter were only projected to last through the winter and lawmakers told the Herald this week they expect the Healey administration to file another shelter funding request before the year is over.

The House and Senate did not agree on how many restrictions to put on the $250 million as they debated the larger spending bill. House lawmakers wanted more guardrails while the Senate argued the administration needed “flexibility” with the money.

The two chambers failed to come to a compromise before recessing for a seven-week holiday break, kicking negotiations into informal sessions where any one lawmaker can at least temporarily block the bill’s path forward.

Legislative Republicans said they are willing to hold up the bill if they are not satisfied with its contents. Both House and Senate conservatives voted against the bill during separate debates.

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