Up to 250 National Guard members will help coordinate basic services for families in the state's shelter system, Gov. Maura Healey announced Thursday. The men and women will help ensure the families have access to food, transportation, medical care and education, among other things.
There are now more than 6,000 families in the system, exceeding the record number of cases from earlier this summer. More than 700 of those families live in hotels and motels without access to the usual state-coordinated services such as caseworkers and translators. National Guard members will be assigned to the unstaffed hotel sites next week.
“While we work to implement a more permanent staffing solution, the National Guard will provide an efficient and effective means of delivering these services and keeping everybody safe,” Healey said in a written statement. “We need all hands on deck to meet this moment and ensure families have access to safe shelter and basic services."
The administration will also create regional rapid response teams to help oversee shelter sites and serve as a direct contact to the administration to address any concerns.
There are shelters in more than 80 cities and towns across the state. A number of municipalities have said they were not notified when unstaffed shelter units were placed in their communities.
“It would have been helpful to have a heads up,” said Heidi Porter, director of health and human services for Bedford. She found out there were unstaffed shelter units in the town because of a 911 call.
Since discovering the families, she and other town officials have been at the shelter site every weekday.
“We're providing all of these social services, all of these wraparound services,” she said.
The growing number of families in the shelter system is driven, in part, by newly arrived immigrant families. Many of them have fled upheaval in Haiti and spent years on the road before arriving in Massachusetts. Healey announced a state of emergency earlier this summer citing an “unsustainable” increase in family homelessness in the state.
A 1983 law established Massachusetts as a right-to-shelter state, obligating the state to provide shelter to eligible families. The legislature recently allocated $324 million toward the family shelter system in the fiscal year 2024 budget, a 48% increase over the previous year.
This isn't the first time the National Guard has provided help during the shelter crisis. In June, Healey activated up to 50 National Guard members to support local and state authorities at the Joint Base Cape Cod, where she opened a number of townhouses to families in need of shelter.
With reporting from State House News Service.