Thousands of families are experiencing homelessness across Massachusetts and there’s no end to the housing crisis in sight.
This is happening as more people in need of help are being housed in hotels by the state. Many families arrived in hotels without warning so there was no plan in place causing frustration and challenges at the local level. The emergency assistance shelter system is bursting at the seams with more people applying for help each month.
At the Baymont Inn in Kingston, there’s no vacancy for travelers but for dozens of families with no place else to go, it’s home. Many are from Massachusetts but most are Haitian immigrants in search of a better life.
Mickenson St. Pierre, who was a teacher in Haiti, came to the US to escape the violence in his homeland. His family has been living in a room at the Baymont since October.
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“I left my country because of the violence, they tried to kill me with my family,” St. Pierre told the NBC10 Boston Investigators.
The Kingston hotel is one of 18 emergency assistance shelters being used by the state’s Department of Housing and Community Development to house almost 600 families as the housing crisis continues to escalate. Hotels are being used as emergency shelters by DHCD in Burlington, Chelsea, Chicopee, Concord, Kingston, Marlborough, Methuen, Marlborough, and Plymouth. There are multiple hotels housing homeless families in Waltham, Westborough Worcester and West Springfield.
Sue Giovanetti from the Plymouth Area Coalition for the Homeless is contracted by DHCD to manage the day-to-day living at the hotel. When asked how the state got to the point of using hotels for shelter after years of trying to remove families from hotels Giovanetti said, “No one wanted to be here that we had to place families in hotels, it’s not an optimum situation.”
Massachusetts is the country’s only right-to-shelter state, which means every homeless family is guaranteed emergency housing.
Life at the Baymont is a daily struggle for a mom of three priced out of the rental market, confined to a room with two queen beds, no fresh food or a kitchen. She’s being housed 50 miles away from her hometown-far beyond the state’s 20-mile regulation. She told us she cried when she was first placed at the hotel because of the conditions and lack of space,
“There’s not enough room for three kids. I’m just praying that it’s over sooner rather than later.”
She said it killed her when her son asked where their home was.
“I don’t know what to say, it’s just awful.”
There’s a common space for meals and extra clothing on hand for those in need. On certain days there are dental checkups and educational help. Many children go to school in Kingston. Others are bused to Brockton, Taunton and even Boston.
“We’re really in the business of providing hope for families in the form of their own housing. The most difficult part is really being able to identify those units that we can move them into and helping the clients stay positive," Giovanetti said.
From Kingston, we went to Methuen, where more than a hundred families are living at the Days Hotel. Methuen Mayor Neil Perry said his city was already struggling with its own homeless population when the state placed families at the hotel in October without warning and no plan. He told us he’s not anti-homeless but wants to protect his constituents.
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“Taxpayers should not be required to bear the burden for a decision that they nor the city were part of making," he said.
Perry told us the use of hotels is better than not having a roof over your head but said it should not be the plan to keep families in hotels permanently.
Cities and towns are left footing the bill for many services. Records obtained by the NBC10 Boston Investigators show Methuen Police responded to 150 calls for service at the hotel in five months. Inspectors have been called for reports of rodents, cockroaches and bed bugs. There’s been a surge in education costs with an increase of at least $1.2 million for the children living at the Days Hotel. Taxpayers also pick up the tab to bus some of the students to other districts.
“You’ve got Methuen people in Kingston, you’ve got you know Boston people in Methuen. There has to be a better way to kind of shape and plan that,” said Perry.
The rooms are supposed to be a temporary home but for many weeks have turned into months, seasons have changed and babies have been born. Perry said his real ask of the state is to work comprehensively together on the housing crisis problem.
“It’s the proverbial little boy with his finger in the dike. You’re just stopping it for a moment in time. As soon as the pressure builds up, that’s going to break," he added.
The state gave Methuen $75,000 for educational costs but much more is needed. The supplemental budget which just passed includes money to support schools and expand shelter capacity.
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