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Healey Administration Puts Limits on Stays in Overflow Homeless Shelters

The Massachusetts State House is located at 24 Beacon St. in Boston. State officials are looking to put limits on stays in some state-operated family shelters.
The Massachusetts State House is located at 24 Beacon St. in Boston. State officials are looking to put limits on stays in some state-operated family shelters. By Julian J. Giordano
By Laurel M. Shugart, Crimson Staff Writer

For months, Massachusetts has struggled to accommodate an influx of unhoused families, who have a right to shelter under state law. Now, state officials are looking to put limits on families’ stays in some state-run shelters.

Governor Maura T. Healey ’92 unveiled new requirements for families staying in state-run overflow sites on Monday in order to “accelerate families on a path to housing stability and respond to rising capacity constraints,” according to a press release.

Effective May 1, families will be mandated to report their engagement in case management, employment, and rehousing efforts monthly to remain eligible for state-run emergency overflow shelters in Roxbury and Cambridge.

The new policy will affect more than 50 families staying in an East Cambridge overflow shelter that opened last December at the Cambridge Registry of Deeds building. Though the shelter was intended to be temporary, most of the families who currently reside in the shelter have been there since it opened, while officials have fruitlessly tried to place them in permanent housing.

The overflow shelter is operated under the Emergency Assistance program, which organizes shelter for unhoused and migrant families eligible for housing under the state’s 1983 “right to shelter” law and which has consistently been at its maximum capacity of 7,500 families since November of last year. The program currently faces a $224 million deficit.

“We have said for months now that our system is at capacity, and we do not have the space, providers, or funding to continue expanding,” Emergency Assistance Director General Scott Rice said in a Monday press release.

State legislators are also working to limit the length of time that families are able to stay in the overflow sites.

Both the Massachusetts House of Representatives and Senate versions of the state budget for Fiscal Year 25 included provisions to place a 9 month limit for stays in all Emergency Assistance shelters, with the potential for extension.

But not everybody is on board with cutting down on the amount of time families can stay in emergency shelters.

State Representative Michael L. Connolly, a Democrat whose district includes the East Cambridge overflow shelter, said that placing limits on stays without assisting families with finding other housing solutions will only cause more harm.

“If you had guarantees and protections and amplified supports, and if you had mapped out all the numbers, and you could demonstrate how people will just move through shelter into permanent housing,” Connolly said, “then the notion of a time limit might be fine.”

“But to have a time limit and not have all of the other pieces to ensure that you have a working system doesn’t make sense, and ultimately is going to create a negative burden on the individuals, on the system as a whole, and on the service providers and advocates,” he added.

—Staff writer Laurel M. Shugart can be reached at Follow them on X @laurelmshugart or on Threads @laurel.shugart.

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