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As summer travel heats up, migrant families still shelter at Logan Airport

Mass. facilities at full capacity leave few options for new arrivals

Mandile Mpofu
As summer travel heats up, migrant families still shelter at Logan Airport
Dozens of families prepare for bed in the international arrivals section of Logan Airport on Thursday, June 20. BANNER PHOTO

Since the beginning of the year, a large, open space on the ground floor of Boston Logan International Airport Terminal E has served as a shelter for migrant families with nowhere else to sleep.

On a recent Thursday night, blankets and pillows were sprawled across the floor as the families prepared for bed. Some travelers passing through paused to observe the families as boarding calls blared through the airport speakers.

Even as summer travel is in full swing, the space in the airport’s international arrivals section remains a sleeping spot for the migrant families — the majority of them Haitian — who have yet to find a spot in one of Massachusetts’ at-capacity shelters.

Fileine Ambroise, 45, arrived at Logan Airport on Saturday, June 15, and as of last Thursday, had spent every night there, along with her four children, aged 17, 15, 12 and 8.

“It is difficult for us, but the fact that we find assistance from many other Haitian families … they give us hope … so we know one day things will definitely be better. Things will change. Things will not remain the same,” she said in Haitian Creole, speaking through a translator. “Because that’s the hope that we have when we come here.”

Ambroise traveled to the U.S. from Chile, where she and her children had lived for last 10 years. Her decision to move to Massachusetts, as is the case for many migrants, was driven by a desire to secure better opportunities for her family and better education for her children.

Ambroise and her children are among hundreds of other migrant families living in limbo as they wait for spots to open up in Massachusetts Emergency Assistance shelters. In an email to the Banner, a spokesperson for Gov. Maura Healey’s office said the state will soon open the doors to a new safety-net site in Norfolk to shelter migrant families.

There are currently safety-net sites in Lexington, Cambridge and Chelsea. The Bay State Correctional Center in Norfolk, a former minimum-security facility “in good condition,” the spokesperson said, will shelter approximately 140 families on the waitlist, including some of those living at Logan Airport.

At the start of June, more than 7,500 families were living in Massachusetts Emergency Assistance shelters across more than 90 communities in the state. On June 12, the Healey-Driscoll administration announced that it would place a nine-month cap on Emergency Assistance shelter stays to alleviate the overburdened housing system.

“This policy is a responsible measure to address the capacity and fiscal constraints of our state’s emergency assistance system,” Healey said in the press release.

Alongside the state, local nonprofits and religious organizations have worked to respond to the state’s influx of migrants. In Jamaica Plain, the Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church, with the help of volunteers, has provided housing, social services and educational resources to Haitian families. Communities in Quincy and Milton have also assisted.

“The needs are colossal,” said Dieufort Fleurissaint, known familiarly as Pastor Keke, an immigrant advocate with True Alliance Center. Fleurissaint partners with other migrant advocacy nonprofits such as the Immigrant Family Services Institute and the Association of Haitian Women to accommodate the needs of families arriving in Massachusetts.

“This trend will not stop,” he said, “I know the situation in Haiti. People are fleeing for their lives, they’ve been displaced.” He added that while sleeping on an airport floor may be challenging for the families, the reality back home in Haiti is worse. Many of them are fleeing gang violence and unrest. Here in Boston, he said, “they have peace, they have security.”

Every morning around 7 a.m., the families living at Logan Airport pack up their temporary beds and transport their luggage to churches or other institutions, where they spend the day. Every weekday, the Church of the Holy Spirit in Mattapan welcomes some of those families. There, sometimes hundreds of migrants receive meals and sit around and chat as they while the day away.

Last Thursday, the church’s pastors, volunteers and workers with IFSI served a rice dish for lunch, followed by ice cream for dessert to combat the sweltering heat. Chatter rang through the church’s hall, accompanied by the sounds of children scurrying about.

Around 3 p.m., the families began wrangling their luggage to prepare to head back to the airport. They would have to carry their large suitcases and bags from Mattapan to East Boston. Ambroise gathered her children and their belongings, stuffing miscellaneous items into the pockets of various bags.

The family of five would spend another night in the airport.