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Mass. to close shelter in MBTA office building for homeless migrant families, shift ‘operations’ to Quincy

Near armed security, cots were visible through the crack of a doorway inside an overnight shelter officials set up in the state's transportation building in Boston last month.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

Governor Maura Healey’s administration said Thursday it is closing the overnight shelter site it set up inside the state’s transportation building in Boston for homeless and migrant families, ending a near three-week run of housing families in the government building.

State officials said they will close the site at 10 Park Plaza on Friday, and “transition operations” to a site at Eastern Nazarene College in Quincy, where state officials had been screening families for eligibility to enter the system and previously set up a so-called family welcome center to connect newly arrived migrants with services.

Lieutenant General L. Scott Rice, the state’s emergency assistance director, said officials also plan to soon open an additional “safety net site” designed to house families who are put on the state’s newly created waitlist for its overwhelmed emergency shelter system. State officials did not say when, or where, the site could open.

The site in Quincy can accommodate 57 families, more than double the number the transportation building shelter could house, state officials said. And unlike the Park Plaza shelter, where families were limited to staying during the evening and overnight hours, the site at Eastern Nazarene will “not [be] limited to overnight stays,” said Kevin Connor, a spokesperson for the state’s executive office of housing.

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The state also plans a new site in Revere, where officials can conduct clinical assessments of families who’ve applied for the state’s emergency shelter program.

“We greatly appreciate the collaboration of MassDOT, MBTA, MEMA and other state agencies who stepped up to make sure families had a safe, warm place to stay,” Rice said in a statement.

Days before Thanksgiving, the state had converted conference rooms in the state transportation building into a congregate shelter site, outfitting it with cots and limited amenities for shelter-eligible migrant and homeless families.

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State officials initially said they planned to utilize it for two weeks. Rice later said they planned to keep it operating until at least Thursday.

A multibillion-dollar spending bill that Healey signed Monday promises to inject $250 million in the system, with the stipulation her administration spend up to $50 million on overflow sites for families that have nowhere else to go. The package requires Healey to open one or more by Dec. 31, and keep them “operational” until the end of the fiscal year.

Rice said last week that the Park Plaza building — which houses offices of the MBTA general manager and the state Department of Transportation — was the first and only overnight shelter the state had directly set up since Healey began limiting how many people the shelter system could house. The state also partnered with the YMCA of Greater Boston to allow families sleeping in the converted conference rooms to visit the Wang YMCA in Chinatown during the day, where they could eat and children could play.

The United Way of Massachusetts Bay, using $5 million from the state, awarded funding to Catholic Charities Boston to create another “safety net site” for up to 81 people in Greater Boston. It has yet to announce any other recipients.

The number of homeless families was still outstripping the state’s supply as of last week, leaving some without housing, Rice acknowledged. “There are some that have to rough it overnight,” Rice said last week.

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Healey, speaking during a radio appearance Thursday, said she was not aware of the specific number of eligible families who may not have shelter. But she suggested the influx of migrant families that has strained the state’s shelter system may be receding.

Roughly 25 families are now arriving daily into the state, a drop from the late summer when 35 to 40 were flowing in each day, according to estimates her office later provided to the Globe. Over a span of a month, that would constitute a nearly 30 percent drop from a few months ago.

“Things are better than they were before,” Healey said on WBUR’s “Radio Boston” program. The number of those arriving at Logan International Airport in particular has “really dropped significantly,” she said, though she couldn’t say exactly why.

“Some of it, I think, has to do with the weather,” the Democrat said. “It’s a situation that is very fluid.”

Still, any drop in incoming families has not translated in less demand on the system or the state’s safety net. There were 7,525 families in the emergency shelter program as of Thursday — topping even the state’s self-imposed cap of 7,500 families — and the waitlist the Healey administration created for families it couldn’t immediately house nearly doubled in a week’s time, jumping to 175 as of Monday.

The Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition and its partners “are still working around the clock” with newly arrived families, and have seen little substantive change in the number of people seeking assistance, said Alex Psilakis, a spokesperson for the group.

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Should the drop in arriving families stretch over several more weeks or months, perhaps then it can make a dent, he said. But that doesn’t appear to have happened.

“There are lots of children who still need to get into school. There are still people looking for longer-term shelter. There obviously are people who are ending up in overflow sites that need to be taken care of,” Psilakis said. “Those are all things that really haven’t changed.”

There are still calls for more federal help. Members of the state’s all-Democratic delegation wrote Wednesday to Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, demanding the Biden administration divvy up funding for migrant shelters equally among states to ensure that the state can keep up with the rising demand.

The Biden administration recently requested $1.4 billion from Congress to provide shelter grants to local governments and nonprofits across the country to provide food, shelter, and other services for new arrivals to the states.


Matt Stout can be reached at matt.stout@globe.com. Follow him @mattpstout.