Disabled homeless girl’s family reaches deal with state on shelter

A disabled homeless girl and her family will be transferred from Lowell to a shelter closer to her medical providers in Boston after the Massachusetts housing department and the family’s lawyers came to an agreement Wednesday.

Under pressure from Superior Court Judge Robert N. Tochka, the parties agreed that Cristal, a young girl born with spina bifida, and her family would be placed by June 1 in an apartment-style shelter with access to Boston-area bus or subway service. That means Cristal, who turns 3 this week, won’t have to endure frequent trips from the Lowell shelter to Boston, journeys that one of her doctors called “intolerable.”


The arrangement comes after the Globe highlighted the girl’s story and marks a victory for both sides.

Cristal’s mother, Jocelin Gruilart, had asked a judge to place her family in “an appropriate setting in the Boston area, including a hotel room if no other space is available.”

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But the administration of Governor Charlie Baker, who won election in 2014 pledging to end the practice of sending homeless families to hotels and motels at state expense, fought the motion, indicating it could unravel the state’s success at reducing the motel rolls.

Now, Cristal and her mother and father are poised to live in a shelter that meets their needs, and is closer to the girl’s doctors at Boston Children’s Hospital. And the state was not forced to acquiesce to putting a new family in motel, which a Baker spokeswoman has said is “the most disruptive and least effective way of meeting this tragedy” of homelessness.

When Baker took office in January 2015, there were 1,500 homeless families in hotels or motels at state expense; by Tuesday night, there were 54.


It was the second hearing about Cristal’s situation in a week. Both times the judge emphasized his belief that the parties were acting in good faith. But Tochka expressed frustration Wednesday that there hadn’t been enough conversation between the state and Gruilart’s lawyers. He asked them to go to the hallway outside the courtroom and have a talk.

More than an hour and a half later, they came to an agreement, and Tochka signed it. Speaking in open court, he reaffirmed his belief that “everyone had the best interests of the child at heart.”

The case put into stark relief a debate about the state using motels as homeless family housing of last resort when shelters are full.

On one hand, advocates and lawmakers of both parties agree that motels are often a poor option for housing families, separating them from the social support of relatives and friends, a clean place for children to play, public transit, and a kitchen.

On the other, advocates say a temporary stay in a motel may be precisely what’s needed for certain families with unusual requirements.

Massachusetts is the country’s sole right-to-shelter state. That means when eligible poor families can show they are homeless because of domestic violence, natural disaster, no-fault eviction, or substantial health and safety risks, the state is mandated to provide housing.

Joshua Miller can be reached at
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