QUINCY — City residents made red paper hearts and signs bearing welcoming messages Sunday afternoon to show support for migrant families being housed on a local university campus, as they sought to counter a hateful demonstration the night before by a neo-Nazi group.
The temporary shelter and welcome center at Eastern Nazarene College opened in August as state officials sought to take pressure off the state’s overcrowded emergency shelter system amid an influx of migrant families.
On Saturday night, more than two dozen members of the Nationalist Social Club, or NSC-131, a New England-based neo-Nazi group, marched to the campus and stood outside a dorm that has been used as a shelter for migrant families, most of whom are Haitian, Quincy police said. Members of the group wore sweatshirts, khaki pants, and face coverings and held red flares while chanting for the migrant families to “go home,” according to police.
“It was just so sickening and horrifying,” said Maggie McKee, a Quincy resident who helped organize Sunday’s show of support. “I thought, we have to do something. We can’t just let this go.”
Quincy Mayor Thomas Koch condemned the NSC-131 demonstration.
“Let’s call it what it is — a hate filled racist attention grab from a group outside of Quincy and probably outside of Massachusetts,” Koch said in a statement. “It has no place in our community, and I thank the Quincy Police for their immediate response to ensure the ENC community and the neighborhood did not feel threatened by these fools.”
Police were alerted to the demonstration shortly before 8:30 p.m. Saturday and found members of the group standing on a public sidewalk carrying flares and a banner, Quincy Police Chief Mark Kennedy said in a statement.
Images posted on the social media site Telegram showed members of the group holding a banner that read, “New England is ours, the rest must go.” Responding officers monitored the situation until the group dispersed after about 20 minutes, Kennedy said.
There were no reports of violence, vandalism, or trespassing, he said.
NSC-131 has held similar protests in recent weeks outside temporary shelters set up across Eastern Massachusetts to house migrant families.
On Sunday, a few dozen community members arrived at the college’s campus to hold a rally outside the shelter, where they were planning to show their signs and chant messages of love, McKee said.
But university officials, at the request of providers running the shelter, asked them not to demonstrate outside because of concerns that they could confuse or frighten the families being housed there. Instead, the university opened its library for participants to make signs and cards that would be shared with the families, according to Bill McCoy, vice president of academic affairs at Eastern Nazarene College.
McCoy said he was in “disbelief” when he learned of the demonstration the previous night. He said he’s been encouraged by the community’s reaction.
“It’s been a really welcome sort of counteractive to the ugliness of last night,” he said.
Tere Rodriguez, 52, arrived with a sign she made at home that said “Bienvenidos” with a red paper heart in the upper right corner. Rodriguez said she emigrated from Guatemala in the early 1990s and recalled the challenges of arriving in an unfamiliar place.
She said she had heard some of the families in the dorm were Spanish speakers.
“When you come to this country and you don’t even speak the language ... it’s a scary situation,” Rodriguez said. “I wanted to make sure they know that there are also Spanish-speaking families in Quincy.”
The facility at Eastern Nazarene College was opened to migrant families by state officials to satisfy the state’s right-to-shelter law, which has for 40 years required state officials to quickly provide shelter and other necessities to homeless parents with children, pregnant women, and most recently, a large influx of migrant families. Most homeless people are not covered by the law.
The shelter’s opening at the college previously sparked protests by some residents who claimed local services are being used to support migrant families instead of residents in need.
A community meeting with state officials is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Tuesday in the Central Middle School auditorium on Hancock Street, according to a letter from Koch’s office.
Quincy City Councilor-At-Large Anne Mahoney, who attended Sunday’s gathering, said city officials have not effectively communicated with residents in the weeks since the state ordered the shelter to open.
“By not doing that, I think it opens the door for these types of radical people to come into your community and to feel that they’re welcomed,” she said. “That’s not something we can accept in the City of Quincy.”