scorecardresearch Skip to main content

Mass. right-to-shelter law collides with harsh reality

A rally was held in front of the Massachusetts State House last month to call for the Healey administration to uphold the right to shelter for all who are eligible.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

Speaker Mariano: ‘House will do everything in its power to ensure no family spends a night out on the street’

Rachelle G. Cohen’s Nov. 15 op-ed, “State shouldn’t house migrant families in the Hynes,” highlights the extraordinarily difficult position that Massachusetts is in but mischaracterizes the House’s efforts to address those challenges. Massachusetts has been left scrambling to handle the impact of congressional inaction on immigration reform, and despite commentary focused on derailing legislative solutions, we cannot afford to do nothing to address the current shelter crisis.

The House will do everything in its power to ensure that no family spends a night out on the street. That’s why we rejected calls to exclude migrants from the 1983 “right-to-shelter” law, and it’s why we voted to require the Healey-Driscoll administration to identify an emergency overflow site, which would temporarily house families stuck on a waiting list. If that requirement is signed into law, the administration would then decide the best location or locations, which is, after all, within its purview.

The scale of this crisis demands humane solutions that ensure access to shelter for families in Massachusetts. Rather than fretting about potential sites, our response instead should be to agree that requiring solutions is the only way to keep children off the streets. If we don’t, what happens to the families on the waiting list?


Ronald J. Mariano

Speaker of the Massachusetts House of Representatives


Healey must establish overflow sites, even ones that are less than ideal

It has been heartbreaking for families experiencing homelessness and the advocates who work with them each day to see the state begin to place families determined eligible for Emergency Assistance shelter on a waiting list without being able to ensure that those children and parents have warm beds in the meantime.

For 40 years, Massachusetts has proudly upheld the right to shelter for eligible families and children. With the number of eligible families increasing dramatically over the past year, it is imperative that the Healey administration establish state-funded overflow shelters while working with the Legislature, community-based organizations, and other stakeholders to rapidly scale up longer-term shelter sites, homelessness prevention resources, permanent housing opportunities, and wraparound supports.


While potential overflow shelter sites such as the Hynes Convention Center are far from ideal, they would help ensure that both long-term Massachusetts residents and newly arrived immigrant families who have become Massachusetts residents are not left to sleep in places not meant for human habitation — such as Logan Airport, hospital emergency rooms, police stations, and parks — as families remain on a shelter waiting list for what could be weeks or months.

Kelly Turley

Associate director

Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless


Right-to-shelter law was not meant to accommodate expanding migrant population

Although Massachusetts has a 1983 right-to-shelter law, Superior Court Judge Debra A. Squires-Lee this month denied Lawyers for Civil Rights’ request for a restraining order to stop Governor Maura Healey’s cap on new emergency shelter beds (“Judge OK’s Healey’s cap on shelter system,” Metro, Nov. 2). Massachusetts’ granting of a right to shelter is a one-of-a-kind law that historically has focused on safeguarding housing for low-income families and pregnant women. The law was not designed to accommodate a large and expanding migrant population.

Even before the nationwide influx of migrants being essentially waved in by the Biden administration, Massachusetts was already facing a housing crisis, with rising homelessness and a lack of affordable housing. Now conditions are much worse, with an even greater demand for housing and our state’s emergency shelter system at capacity, despite hundreds of millions of tax dollars being spent. By applying the right-to-shelter law to migrants, our leaders are luring in a relentless flow of destitute newcomers to Massachusetts. Not only is today’s application of the law unsustainable, it is also cruel to both Americans and migrants.


Henry Barbaro


Make the most of faith-based groups’ resources to ease this crisis

With winter quickly approaching, something definitely needs to be done to create emergency shelters (“Lawmakers urge $250m for strained shelter system,” Metro, Nov. 8). The article notes that the Healey administration “plans to use $5 million in federal funds … to seed faith-based groups and other local organizations with money to set up overnight sites.” There are many convents, rectories, monasteries, seminaries, and other sites in Massachusetts that are not being fully utilized. The same is true of many other faiths that also have available spots. Perhaps with the help of faith-based groups throughout the state, we can mitigate this terrible problem of shelter capacity.

Dorothy Driscoll


In assessing Hynes site, writer’s dig at Back Bay neighborhood is a snide dismissal

The op-ed “State shouldn’t house migrant families in the Hynes” (Nov. 15) is a mishmash of snide remarks. No such proposal is in the works, for reasons author Rachelle G. Cohen notes, reasons that are well known to anyone familiar with the building and its location.

As for what Cohen calls “the underutilized white elephant on Boylston Street,” diverse interests, including Back Bay residents (the Neighborhood Association of the Back Bay — spoiler alert: I am the current chair), Back Bay businesses (the Back Bay Association), and unions all joined to keep the Hynes open as a convention center, requiring significant investment and upgrades after years of neglect (sound like the MBTA?). It is a key economic engine for the Back Bay and the city. Its location within Greater Boston makes it especially attractive for conventions of medical and life sciences interests.


As for the “chichi Back Bay folks” who might get “the vapors” at the prospect of affordable housing associated with the Hynes, we have regularly advocated for affordable housing in Back Bay projects. Developers preferred to make cash payments for off-site housing under the city’s inclusionary development policy. The Neighborhood Association of the Back Bay strongly supported the just-completed conversion of 140 Clarendon St., the historic former YWCA building, into more than 200 units of affordable housing. About half are designated permanent supportive housing for formerly homeless individuals, with Pine Street Inn playing a key role in providing supportive services.

We gave up smelling salts, but, optimistically, the “chichi” label might open roles for us in the HBO series “The Gilded Age.”

Martyn Roetter