Massachusetts shelter abandonment rates slowly improving – NBC Boston

At one of Massachusetts' emergency shelters for migrant families, it was the first time: a family from Haiti moved out of the shelter and into their new home. But thousands of people still fill the shelters, and hundreds more are in need.

Current data on exit rates from emergency shelters show a slight movement, but it is a very slow process.

Among the lucky ones is the Joseph family, who have moved out after living in a hotel since November 2022.

“I am very happy and feel good,” said Fenelus Joseph. The day marked a new opportunity in life.

For the past 19 months, Fenelus, his wife Gilene and their two children have called Room 111 at the Baymont Inn in Kingston their home. The hotel is one of dozens of shelters in Massachusetts that have become overwhelmed by the influx of migrant families.

Sue Giovanetti, chair of the Plymouth Area Coalition for the Homeless, is hired by the state to manage day-to-day life at Baymont and help families with existing resources become self-sufficient.

“I think everyone is doing their best to make this work and to make it fair and just. I think we are trying to do our best and that is a big challenge,” Giovanetti said.

The Joseph family is the first newly arrived family to leave Baymont since the home opened its doors in October 2022. Giovanetti told us the biggest challenge is the long time it takes for families or individuals to get their welfare and work permits.

Obtaining these work permits is crucial to independence. Fenelus and Gilene both have jobs and are eligible for up to $30,000 in rental assistance over the next two years.

But thousands of families are still struggling, with 7,500 of them living in shelters. State data shows hundreds more are in the pipeline, with 798 on the waiting list as of May 30, 2022. Most are stuck in the system, with only 23% of families who entered shelters since September 2023 able to leave. Projected costs have soared to $915 million in the coming fiscal year.

Democratic Premier John Velis is a member of the Joint Committee on Housing. He told us the federal government needs to increase funding and work permits. Velis also believes the state should take a closer look at its Right to Housing Act, which guarantees housing for all homeless families.

“I just don't think it's sustainable. That's my biggest concern right now, that the status quo is not sustainable without an exit strategy, without an exit. When does this end? When does the bleeding stop, considering the amounts we're spending on this program?”

As early as August 2023, Governor Maura Healey declared a state of emergency due to the state of the system and the large number of migrant families seeking assistance from the system.

“We are doing what the state legislated in 1982,” Giovanetti said. “There is no doubt that nobody foresaw that it could reach this magnitude. So there have to be changes, there have to be adjustments, everything else has changed.”

Years after escaping violence in their homeland, the Josephs' belongings were loaded into a pickup truck and driven a few miles down the road to a beautiful, state-of-the-art apartment. The living room was the size of the hotel room they lived in at the Baymont. The apartment is a safe haven and the key to a new beginning.

“I always tell our staff that our goal is to give hope, and when I looked at this young family today, I thought, oh my God, that's really what it's about. It's a whole new world for them,” Giovanetti said.

A stabilization team will support the Joseph family and ensure that their jobs remain stable and their bills are paid over the next few years.

A spokesperson for the Healey-Driscoll administration told us that departure rates have improved in recent months and that their goal is to ensure shelters are temporary, supportive and non-recurring. Stays in shelters are now limited to nine months, with some exceptions and extensions. The state is expected to begin sending departure notices to families in July.

Anna Harden

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