It's a question that has dogged Sheila Zaremba since she discovered state plans to relocate homeless families from the Brighton motels used as emergency shelters: Where are she and her two children going to go?
The family of three, she said, boarded a bus to Massachusetts nearly two years ago after being evicted from their Connecticut home. And while the motel is no home, it's not the street, either.
"What now?" the 46-year-old wondered.
Her children attend Urban Science Academy in West Roxbury. What happens to their education? A diabetic with arthritis, she receives care from Boston Medical Center. What about her doctors? Her medication?
"It's a huge mess," Zaremba said, sitting in her wheelchair at a park across from the Days Hotel in Brighton. "And it's depressing."
Governor Charlie Baker has made it a priority for his administration to eliminate hotels and motels from the state's emergency shelter system, bringing down the number from 48 to the current tally of 14. Two of the motels are in Boston, the Charles River Motel and Days Hotel, both in Brighton, where 66 families are being housed.
As part of its efforts to find stable and better housing for families, the state has set Sept. 1 as the deadline to stop using the Charles River Motel, meaning 15 families with 21 school-age children must be relocated.
The first day of school in Boston is Sept. 8, and about half of those families come from Boston, officials said.
City Councilor Annissa Essaibi George, chairwoman of the council's Committee on Homelessness, Mental Health and Recovery, hosted a hearing at City Hall Tuesday on the matter with officials from the state, Boston Public Schools, and community organizations.
"The uncertainty and anxiety that comes with not knowing where you are going to live two weeks from now is something we find very concerning," said Councilor Matt O'Malley, who sits on the committee.
Rose Evans, deputy undersecretary of the state Department of Housing and Community and Development, told the committee no one would be forced to leave the Charles River Motel if adequate housing — a home, a shelter bed, or a different motel — is not identified by the Sept. 1 deadline.
Massachusetts is the only right-to-shelter state, which means it guarantees shelter for homeless families. There are 3,661 state-contracted shelter beds, Evans said. But demand far exceeds supply, and if a shelter bed is not available, families are placed in a motel room. "The use of hotels and motels is our last resort," Evans said.
"Raising a child in a hotel or motel is not where we want families to be raising their children. There's no cooking within the hotel/motel; laundry facilities are limited. Transportation, grocery shopping, access to community-based resources can be limited, so our priority is always to place a family in one of our state-contracted shelter beds."
Ashley Jarrett, 22, a mother of three, gave brief testimony of what life is like living in a motel. The state is obligated to provide shelter for a family within 20 miles of their community of origin, but Jarrett, from Dorchester, feels isolated in a Danvers motel. "I have no support where they moved me to," she said. "I do everything alone."
Jarrett, in a shelter for three years, hasn't enrolled her youngest children in day care because, she said, she can be relocated at a moment's notice.
"My 9-year-old has been to six different schools due to shelter movements," she said.
Living in a motel comes with a number of other stressors, from being allowed to bring only two bags of personal belongings to having a curfew to not being able to cook.
Zaremba, who has received assistance navigating the state's social service network from Action for Boston Community Development, said her 18-year-old son sleeps on a cot while she and her 16-year-old daughter share a queen-size bed. They cook in a microwave or eat out — a problem for a diabetic.
And even when someone does find stable housing, hurdles remain, said Anna Leslie, of the Allston Brighton Health Collaborative, at the hearing.
HomeBase Household Assistance is available to families eligible for emergency state aid. But many landlords won't take HomeBase because payments can be untimely and a fear families won't be able to cover the rent when the funds runs out, Leslie said.
"People look down on the homeless without really understanding the reasons why we're homeless," Zaremba said.
Akilah Johnson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.