The following appeared in the Mission of Deeds 2023 holiday newsletter. For our full newsletter, please click here.
In August of this year, City of Woburn officials had to adapt on the fly. 59 migrant families were headed their way with the potential for an additional 100 on the horizon. The sharp increase placed significant strains not only on housing inventory but also school and community resources. The conversion of a hotel to an emergency shelter was merely a starting point.
Woburn’s story is strikingly similar to predicaments embroiling communities across Massachusetts. Government agencies and non-profits are struggling to grapple with the severe influx of migrant families. Massachusetts is the only state with a right-to-shelter law that guarantees families with children a place to stay if they meet certain criteria. The number of families living in emergency shelters and hotels statewide has doubled in the past year. 6,300 families as of mid-September. The housing cost alone is a staggering $45 million per month. The crisis reached a boiling point when Governor Healey declared a state of emergency and activated the National Guard.
The trickle-down impact has crushed the social service agencies we work with every day. They were already stretched thin from a head count and resource perspective. A caseworker from a state-wide agency relayed to us:
“With the ongoing relocation of many migrant families to our area, there has been a major surge in the need for assistance which we weren’t expecting or prepared for. We are trying to get everyone the help that they need, but it is extremely difficult to assist everyone with the current staffing and resources we have available.”
A caseworker in Lawrence echoed the sentiment when they noted, “I am overwhelmed and I cannot balance it any more with the number of referrals for families in need.” Another representative who manages Haitian, Afghan, and Hispanic families sighed and said, “I am under water. I cannot handle the volume.” The mental and physical toll endured by agency workers and migrant families is palpable and bubbling.
Mission of Deeds is endeavoring to do our part to meet the moment. We are maintaining a short appointment waiting period of three weeks, squeezing in as many appointments as possible for those requesting only beds or a few items, and opening our doors for a third Saturday every month starting in January. Our referral process is streamlined and simple with no red tape. And the truck remains on the road for free furniture pickups three days per week to ensure our warehouse remains well-stocked. We are grateful to our neighbors for their support as we band together to provide the basics and treat migrant families with the dignity and respect they deserve.