On Wednesday night, advocates said 31 people — including 17 children — were told they could not sleep at Logan Airport. They are among those left in the lurch since the state-run family shelter system announced it could no longer guarantee immediate housing for all eligible families.
The system has been overwhelmed by record demand, which state officials attribute to rising housing costs and an increase in migrant families seeking to settle in Massachusetts. Shelter officials on Friday began placing families on a waitlist. The most recent state data showed 48 families on the list.
With no temporary shelter currently set up for waitlisted families, advocates said they have been scrambling to find alternatives. State officials have advised families to return to the last safe place they stayed until a shelter unit becomes available.
The families at Logan were Haitian immigrants who said they were given transportation by staff at one of the state's family welcome centers. The centers were created to help unhoused and immigrant families apply for assistance and get basic necessities, like formula and diapers.
Before the waitlist took effect, Logan provided a temporary overnight refuge for some families. In the morning the families were sent by state troopers and a crisis response team to apply for the shelter system. Now that the system is full, advocates said there is confusion about what families should do, and where they should go.
“There is a waiting list but there is no waiting place,” said Dieufort Fleurissaint, a Haitian community leader and pastor, who rushed to the airport when he learned of the families' plight.
The families were first told they would be transported from Logan to South Station. However, at 10 p.m., a nonprofit stepped in and booked nine motel rooms for the parents and children, including an infant as young as two months old.
"It feels like we are moving backwards," said Geralde Gabeau, executive director of the Immigrant Family Services Institute, which booked the hotel rooms for the families. "The biggest challenge that we have is the lack of clarity in terms of how things are supposed to be."
A spokesperson for the state agency that oversees the shelter system said staff provide transportation to anywhere in the state a family wants to go. He said they try to discourage families from going to Logan or a hospital but cannot prevent them.
Some of the families at Logan said they arrived in Massachusetts that day, others have been living in the state for more than a year. While they gathered under an airport escalator waiting to find out where they would spend the night, lawmakers on Beacon Hill tried to pass a supplemental budget with an additional $250 million for the shelter system. They worked past midnight but failed to pass the bill.
One point of difference between the House and Senate versions of the spending measure is whether the shelter funding should be contingent on the state setting up an overflow site for waitlisted families.
Homeless advocates have warned that closing the shelter doors and not providing an overflow site could force families to stay in unsafe situations.
They have also warned that more people may turn to the airport because it is a 24-hour facility with security, bathrooms and food. Over the summer, when some hospitals were overwhelmed by the number of homeless families sleeping in their lobbies, Boston Medical Center started sending some families to Logan.
Jennifer Mehigan, a spokesperson for Massport, which operates Logan, wrote in an email on Wednesday that “the airport is not an appropriate place to house people.” She added that migrants are seen daily at the airport, but she did not know the total number of families seen on Wednesday.