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National Guard starts deployment to help families, including migrants, in state-subsidized hotels

Massachusetts Governor Maura Healey declared state of emergency to address the shelter system and influx of migrants.Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

Members of the Massachusetts National Guard were deployed Wednesday to assist families with children and pregnant women who are living in state-subsidized hotels, which has served as overflow housing for a surge of migrants seeking shelter in the state.

Under an emergency declaration last month, Governor Maura Healey activated 250 members of the National Guard to help families living in hotels that don’t have a contracted service provider, typically a nonprofit, to help families access medical care, find transportation, or organize food deliveries.

Healey told reporters Wednesday that the deployment was “going well” and that Guard members are making sure migrant and homeless families have safe living conditions. She added that ultimately, the onus is on the federal government to approve funding for the overwhelmed shelter system and reform the country’s immigration system so people don’t have to wait as long to be authorized to work.


She said the state “will continue to take steps necessary to cover the expenses here,” but said her call is for the Biden administration and Congress to act.

“We’ll continue this operations as long as necessary every day we continue to pursue and demand funding from the Biden administration,” she said at an unrelated event at the State House. “It is the failure of the federal government that has resulted in states like ours having to bear this burden right now.”

An influx of migrants over the past two years, coupled with a deepening housing crisis, has overwhelmed the state’s emergency family shelter system.

According to state officials, 6,409 families, including children and pregnant women, were in emergency shelters as of Wednesday.

The arrival of families needing shelter and support has pushed the emergency shelter system to the brink, and state officials are increasingly turning to hotels and motels, where nearly 2,700 families are now being housed.


That, in turn, has forced local officials to scramble — sometimes, they say, with little help.

Under a 1983 “right-to-shelter” law, Massachusetts is required to provide emergency shelter to homeless families, the only state in the country with such a requirement. The mandate doesn’t apply to homeless individuals.

Guard members arrived at shelters across the state Wednesday, including at a hotel in Sutton, where a fire broke out in the afternoon.

According to Healey’s office, Guard members will be tasked with:

  • Making sure food is delivered to the families.
  • Providing transportation to “important appointments.”
  • Making sure the families can access medical care.
  • Making sure families are provided essentials such as diapers, wipes, infant formula, and cribs.
  • Assisting with enrolling eligible children in local schools.

Don Veitch, the public information officer for the Mass. National Guard, said 250 soldiers and airmen were deployed across the state Wednesday after undergoing a day of training on how to complete their assigned tasks during their six-month long deployment.

“We’re facilitating the connections that are needed to make sure these things happen,” he said. “It’s an evolving mission.”

John R. Ellement can be reached at Follow him @JREbosglobe. Samantha J. Gross can be reached at Follow her @samanthajgross.