Boston Lawmakers Grapple With Migrant Housing Limits

Boston Lawmakers

Massachusetts lawmakers recently allocated $245 million to bolster the state’s overwhelmed shelter system, but with a controversial caveat: homeless migrant families face a nine-month limit. This decision sparks a heated debate among Boston lawmakers and prompts community efforts to combat homelessness, emphasizing support for all residents, regardless of immigration status, as the key to addressing the crisis effectively.

Community Action vs. Legislative Debate: Boston’s Shelter Duration Debate Unfolds Amidst Homelessness Surge

Massachusetts lawmakers approved a bill adding $245 million to supplement the overwhelmed shelter system. There’s just one condition—this bill won’t allow migrant families to reside in shelters for more than nine months.

Some families may qualify for an additional three months at the absolute most. For example, people with certain disabilities, pregnant women, and those who can get a job or are undergoing job training may be able to stay up to a year in emergency shelters. 

Although the state’s shelter system is at capacity, with 7,500 families and more than 800 families on a waiting list, does that justify kicking families out of the shelter? Are there other options available that can help tackle the growing homelessness crisis? Can other options be offered within those nine months?

Rotating homeless families in and out of the shelter system won’t help solve homelessness. It will only add more stress and instability to an already struggling family.

Housing security in Massachusetts has been an issue for a long time. Cities just north of Boston, including Malden, Revere, Everett, and Chelsea, have come together to try to address the growing affordable housing crisis. This initiative, backed by a $2 million federal fund from American Rescue Plans, is now becoming a reality. Will community members successfully tackle homelessness from a new angle? Will these efforts equally motivate lawmakers to face the real threats causing homelessness? 

“The goal of this program is to support our residents that are experiencing domestic violence, residents experiencing eviction or have housing insecurity in general, and also, those residents struggling with addiction,” Chelsea’s City Manager Fidel Maltez said. Maltez also shared that the initiative will provide services to all – regardless of immigration status. 

This is hopeful news for migrant families, especially after Republicans unsuccessfully voted against the bill while trying to add an amendment limiting shelter eligibility to people who have lived in Massachusetts for at least six months, including all newly arriving migrant families. 

Housing Families, a non-profit organization in Malden, offers help with housing, legal support, and covering basic needs such as food and water to all, including migrants. They offer both emergency shelter and access to long-term affordable housing. With over $900,000 in rental assistance distributed since 2020, it is clear that community members in the surrounding Boston area are dedicated to tackling homelessness from all angles.

Maltez believes that case management is one of the most critical things that should be provided.

Chelsea residents seek more than just housing and shelter support. Many residents want someone to talk to and help guide them, as well as provide legal help and support. Newly arriving migrants will likely seek similar support.

City Council President Stephen Winslow shares how this is only possible with everyone coming together to help those who need it most.

“Many communities struggle with this,” Winslow said. “The fact that we can come together with resources — as a small city, we struggle with having enough resources ourselves to deal with this.”

When we see small communities and cities that lack the funds and resources to tackle homelessness but still find a way to take a step forward, we should let them inspire us. As Winslow says above, it comes down to everyone coming together to help those who need it most.

The way I look at it, there is no other route than embracing and supporting migrants and their families when they arrive in your communities. After all, they are officially a part of your community the second they step off a bus. Your community can only thrive when migrants are greeted with open arms and treated as neighbors, which they now are. They want to be there, they want to embrace their new home, and hope you will embrace them, too.

Making every single person’s quality of life better is backed by a strong, collective belief that a better quality of life is deserved. That ideal starts with solving homelessness because no person should go without a roof.

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Jocelyn Figueroa


Jocelyn Figueroa studied Creative Non-Fiction at The New School and is a blogger and freelance writer based out of New York City. Formerly homeless, she launched her own blog discussing shelter life in New York City. Today, Jocelyn is on a mission to build connections through storytelling and creative writing. Check out her book about homelessness at

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