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Migrant families no longer allowed to sleep at Logan Airport

Mandile Mpofu

Starting Tuesday, July 9, migrant families who had been staying overnight in Terminal E of Boston Logan International Airport were no longer permitted to do so, Gov. Maura Healey announced at the end of June.

Families on the state’s emergency assistance shelter waiting list will be housed in safety-net sites across Massachusetts, which includes a recently opened facility in Norfolk, the administration said. Other eligible families will be placed in shelters as space becomes available.

The administration did not state what would happen to families who had not applied for emergency assistance before the July 9 deadline.

The decision comes as the state attempts to cope with a buckling shelter system under its right-to-shelter policy and to manage the ongoing influx of migrants, some of whom are coming to Massachusetts from the southern border.

“We are going to continue to spread the word that Massachusetts is out of shelter space and that, if families are travelling to Massachusetts, they need to be prepared with a plan for housing that does not include Logan Airport or our Emergency Assistance shelters,” said Scott Rice, the state’s emergency assistance director, in a statement.

Rice was part of a group of state officials who traveled to Texas last month to meet with border authorities, families, and organizations such as Catholic Charities and the Interfaith Welcome Coalition to provide them with accurate information regarding the state’s shelter system.

A spokesperson from Massachusetts Port Authority, which runs the Logan Airport, told the Bay State Banner that families were informed of the new policy by staff onsite, namely state contractors and social workers who had already been working at welcome centers hosting migrants.

The administration said staff would assist the families with transportation to other secure locations where they would stay in the meantime, and that flyers about the change would be distributed in three different languages.

Dozens of migrant families, many of them from Haiti, with nowhere else to go, have sprawled blankets, mattresses and pillows on the floor in the international arrivals section of the airport for months while waiting for placements in the state’s overrun shelters.

During the day, families sleeping at Logan Airport would lug their bags to churches and community centers across Boston and the state, where they would spend the day before returning to the airport at night.

The move to prohibit overnight stays in the airport followed the opening of a safety-net site in Norfolk at the end of June. The dorm-style facility is a former prison decommissioned in 2015 that can accommodate about 140 families at full capacity, the administration said.

Healey declared a state of emergency in August as the housing crisis intensified. In October, the administration announced that the shelters had reached capacity, accommodating 7,500 homeless families. Months later, in May, the state limited stays at overflow shelters to 30 days.

In another attempt to rein in the crisis, Healey in June announced a nine-month cap on emergency assistance shelter stays, enabled by a bill passed by the Legislature in April, stating that the decision would help address the limitations of Massachusetts’ state-run shelter system. The administration said it would begin sending notices to approximately 150 families early this month regarding the limit.

Awaiting stable housing, migrant families have relied on churches, community centers and neighbors for assistance.

In November, Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Jamaica Plain welcomed eight Haitian migrant families into its rectory. In addition to providing shelter and food, the church partners with Immigrant Family Services Institute, or IFSI, to secure work permits and jobs for the migrants.

In Mattapan, the Episcopal Church of the Holy Spirit provided migrant families sleeping at Logan Airport with food, bathrooms, and resting space during the day.

The administration said it has ramped up its efforts to help migrants with housing, work authorization, language classes and job opportunities. As a result, hundreds of families have transferred out of shelters and into stable housing, with nearly 300 leaving in May.

“With this progress, the recent opening of a new safety-net site in Norfolk and the new nine-month length of stay policy, we are now in a position to end the practice of families staying overnight in the airport,” Rice said. “This is in the best interest of families and travelers and staff at Logan, as the airport is not an appropriate place for people to seek shelter.”

emergency assistance shelter, Gov. Maura Healey, immigration, Logan Airport, migrants

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