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State to open temporary shelter and resource center in Devens amid influx of migrants

Governor Charlie Baker's office said the state will open a temporary shelter for migrants in Devens.Steven Senne/Associated Press

Just days after asking the state legislature for more than $130 million in emergency shelter assistance funding, Governor Charlie Baker’s office on Tuesday said the state will open a temporary shelter and resource center in Devens next month to ease the state’s migrant crisis.

The Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency will use the Bob Eisengrein Community Center as a temporary residence for up to 60 families or a maximum of 125 individuals at a time, the Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development said in a statement.

The center will provide food and laundry facilities. If eligible, people will be enrolled in state benefits, and will “receive timely case management services and various intake assessments before being transferred to an emergency assistance site or another more permanent housing solution,” according to the statement.


Housing and Economic Development Secretary Mike Kennealy said that having a central location will enable state officials “to better assess the needs of these individuals and better prepare communities for the arrival of families to shelter sites in their city or town,” according to the statement.

The Devens location is one of the latest steps the state has taken to cope with a growing migration wave that has forced the state to house migrant families in hotels.

Baker has requested more than $130 million in additional funding for emergency shelter from the state Legislature, filing a supplemental budget that would pay for the construction of new shelters, underwrite the growing costs of the existing shelter system, and provide $20 million to create a state-run center like the one planned at Devens.

In a letter accompanying the proposed bill, Baker wrote that the shelter system for families “is already effectively at 100 percent capacity [and the] caseload is expected to continue to increase over the coming months.”


It is unclear, though, if Baker’s bill can survive with just over six weeks left in the legislative session.

House Speaker Ronald Mariano would not commit Monday to moving a spending bill to the floor before early January, when a new Legislature and Governor-elect Maura Healey will be sworn in.

“As with any budget proposal, the administration’s supplemental budget bill is under review by the House Committee on Ways and Means, and will go through the legislative process,” Mariano, a Quincy Democrat, said in a statement to the Globe.

In response to the influx of migrants, the state is also converting a vacant Salem State University residential complex into temporary residences for as many as 60 families.

The first families are expected to arrive at the university’s Bates Complex in late November, and will move into renovated one- and two-floor townhouse units at Salem State’s South Campus on Harrison Road, the Globe reported last week.

The new shelters will arrive after no fewer than 11,000 migrants, largely from the US border with Mexico, have come to Massachusetts this year, the Globe has reported. This surge is occurring on top of the effort to aid homeless families who already live in Massachusetts.

The state has been working to find temporary housing for both migrants and existing homeless residents in communities across the state, with mixed results.

Last month, more than 100 people, mainly unauthorized immigrants from Haiti, were placed in temporary housing in Kingston by state officials after staying in a Days Inn in Methuen, the Globe reported. Meanwhile, more than two dozen families, mostly from Haiti and Central America, were moved to the Plymouth area.


Leaders in those communities criticized state officials for not doing enough to include them in preparations before migrants were moved.

The Devens facility is expected to open in December and remain in use for at least four months, operated by MEMA in partnership with a shelter provider, officials said.

Devens, a former US Army base in Central Massachusetts, is being redeveloped into a mixed-use community by MassDevelopment and currently has 950 residents and 100 businesses, nonprofit organizations, and government offices, officials said.

Jeremy C. Fox can be reached at Follow him @jeremycfox.