Lieutenant Governor Kim Driscoll Friday sought to keep attention on the need to shore up the state’s strained emergency shelters, reiterating the Healey administration’s call for the Legislature to provide more funding for a system struggling to accommodate the arrival of thousands of migrant families.
She emphasized that need on a visit to a temporary shelter in Devens, which opened in December to help alleviate the burden on the system, which has been at-capacity for months.
On Friday, there were 79 people being housed at the Devens facility, 42 of whom were young children and infants.
A large ballroom at the facility, complete with chandeliers, now hosts 88 forest-green cots and a handful of cribs, with navy-blue curtains hung in between areas for privacy, according to a video tour provided to the Globe. Trailers with eight shower stalls are connected to the building with a heated, covered walkway. Families stay for three to five days until they can be placed in other, more permanent housing. In some cases, that means hotels or motels.
Devens’ Bob Eisengrein Community Center will double as a shelter and resource center until the end of the spring, but will need more funding to continue serving the high demand.
“This funding is necessary to make sure we have a safe and stable roof over their heads,” said Driscoll, who was serving in her capacity as acting governor while Governor Maura Healey attended National Governors Association events in Washington, D.C., this week. “We are unfortunately having to think about using hotels and motels and temporaries facilities because there just isn’t enough housing that exists to meet the current need.”
The temporary shelter and resource center opened on Dec. 12 in Devens to help ease the need for more beds in the overwhelmed system. The facility, which is run by the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency, or MEMA, provides food and laundry, medical treatment, and helps eligible people enroll in state benefits.
Last month, Healey announced that she is asking the Legislature to provide nearly $65 million to bolster the state’s shelter system and more than $20 million for local school districts to defray the costs of taking in new students housed by the system. The $85 million, which would expand the current shelter system by 1,100 units, is less than what Baker proposed last year, which a Healey aide said reflects a change in need.
Jennifer Maddox, undersecretary at the Department of Housing and Community Development, said Friday that more funding to expand shelter space means her department can ensure “a safety net for our most vulnerable here in Massachusetts.”
Healey’s request for more emergency shelter funding came after House Speaker Ronald Mariano, who controls which bills advance in that chamber, dismissed as “artificial” a late-March deadline, laid out by the state housing department, by which the system needs more cash.
“We are a ‘right to shelter state.’ That is something that was born right here in Massachusetts,” Driscoll said Friday. “I think our legislators understand that. It’s reasonable to ask questions about why and what and how, and I will continue to answer those.”
The Devens location is just 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.
Last year, the arrival of thousands of migrant families and the rise in homelessness swamped the state’s emergency shelter system and forced the Baker administration to place more than 200 families in hotels. That number has only grown.
As of Thursday, 454 migrant and homeless families were living in hotels, according to state figures. Seven new families entered the shelter system, five of whom were placed directly into shelters.
“We’re prepared to step up and support [emergency assistance efforts] as we move forward,” Driscoll said. “It’s not easy, and solutions are more than just funding for a temporary shelter.”