The city of Boston this week set aside nearly $600,000 to help shelter, feed, and resettle Haitian families who have been steadily arriving from the southern US border.
Until this week, the effort had fallen to the hospitality of local families and the meager coffers of grass-roots organizations, such as the Immigrant Family Services Institute on Blue Hill Avenue, where 33 pregnant women and 35 children younger than 6 are among those who have been arriving daily.
“These families are showing up on the doorstep of Boston and they’re extremely vulnerable,” said Yusufi Vali, director of the Mayor’s Office for Immigrant Advancement. “We as a city are a welcoming city, and so we want to put those values into action and make sure we’re doing everything that we can to be supportive of these arrivals here.”
Boston, with one of the country’s largest Haitian communities, is a logical destination, advocates say, for Haitians fleeing their homeland, one of the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere.
The money from the mayor’s office will help support work being done by local nonprofits, including IFSI, Vali said.
“It’s a beginning, we are very grateful for it because we have nothing, so we are grateful for all of the effort they put into this to help,” said Geralde Gabeau, IFSI’s executive director.
At last count Wednesday, IFSI had 104 families in need of services, or 288 individuals, Gabeau said.
Aside from the 33 pregnant women and 35 children younger than 6, the tally also includes nearly two dozen older children, Gabeau said.
The majority of the “Assistance for Haitian Arrivals” money, $340,000, will go toward temporary housing.
The balance, $244,000, is earmarked for “other needs,” including food vouchers and hiring a social worker and someone to provide legal aid, Gabeau said.
Part of the mayor’s funding will come from leftover federal money from the CARES Act, Vali said.
Vali emphasized that this money is a quick fix to meet the needs of the Haitian men, women, and children who have already arrived in Boston, and that more help will be necessary.
“This is a real temporary and stopgap solution and the federal government really needs to step up,” he said.
“The need for these families, as more and more come, is significant and unless the federal government, in particular, and also the state, really step up, it’s going to be very hard to help these families settle in the area,” Vali said.
A spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees US Customs and Border Protection, did not respond to an e-mailed request for comment.
A spokeswoman for the state Executive Office of Health and Human Services did not respond to a request for comment in time for Thursday’s deadline.
Many of the current arrivals have been on a years-long trek out of Haiti, Gabeau said.
They are largely arriving from Chile and Brazil, where they went after the devastating earthquake of 2010 that killed more than 220,000. Many who went to Brazil worked on the construction of a soccer stadium for the 2016 Olympics, Gabeau said.
But increasing joblessness and discrimination have sent many northward out of South America, Gabeau and Vali said.
And there is no end in sight, Gabeau said.
“We should expect a steady flow,” she said.