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Massachusetts will waitlist those in need of housing once state reaches capacity in shelter system

Advocates rally on the State House steps on Tuesday, Oct. 31, 2023 calling for the state to abide by its right to shelter law for migrant families and for lawmakers to approve additional money for the emergency shelter system.
Sam Doran
State House News Service
Advocates rally on the State House steps on Tuesday, Oct. 31, 2023 calling for the state to abide by its right to shelter law for migrant families and for lawmakers to approve additional money for the emergency shelter system.

A crisis continues in Massachusetts as the state waits for federal funds and residents facing homelessness and migrant families continue to seek out the state's emergency shelters in record numbers. Chris Lisinski of the State House News Service explains what the current plan forward entails, following a judge's ruling last week that allows Gov. Maura Healey to place a limit on the number of people sheltered in the emergency shelters.

Chris Lisinksi, SHNS: The cap is set at 7,500 families in the shelter system, so families number 7,501 and above will instead face basically a triage system determining what kind of priority they get on a waitlist. Now the condition of the family is going to be taken into account when figuring out if they're moved toward the top of the waitlist or the bottom of the waitlist. The top spots will go to families with infants who are three months old or younger, immunocompromised family members, have a high risk pregnancy or tracheostomy tubes, people facing risks of domestic violence, things like that. Lower spots will go to those who don't have those same factors.

When you're on the waitlist, you will be waiting for an indefinite amount of time for an emergency assistance shelter spot to open. And once one spot does open and your turn comes on the waitlist, you'll get a call, email and a text. Families will have until 12 p.m. the following business day to accept that shelter placement.

So, obviously, this is a huge shift after 40 years of Massachusetts guaranteeing shelter placement to eligible families and pregnant women, but as has been the case for months, the Healey administration is saying it simply has to make this shift because of the unprecedented level of demand on the system.

Carrie Healy, NEPM: So, does this waitlist model provide better information to the lawmakers who create budgets, now that they know that that population is going to be capped at 7,500?

Yeah, I suppose theoretically you might get a clearer financial outlook with a cap in place. Granted, the financial outlook is still quite dire. The Healey administration has said that even if it keeps the limit at 7,500 families through the rest of the fiscal year, which ends June 30th, it will be something like $210 million dollars in the red for the emergency shelter system, so more money will be needed. But having a limit in place, I think, does make it easier to project what that year end outlook will be, rather than trying to figure out how much spending will need to increase to accommodate more and more families as they arrive.

Following the changing of the clocks to standard time, I'm reminded that we'll be using more energy in our house in the coming months. In looking forward, clean energy goals call for the state of Massachusetts to have 5,600 megawatts of offshore wind under contract by 2027. With federal regulators now downshifting the economy to avert that recession, previously contracted wind farms are now saying that the finances no longer work at those negotiated prices. Chris, so where's the state currently with offshore wind?

The state is basically where it was back in May 2018. With offshore wind right now, about 2,400 megawattas worth of projects that were in the pipeline and that came into the pipeline after 2018… are no longer here. South Coast Wind and Commonwealth wind both backed out of their plans for installations off the coast of Massachusetts, citing changing economic conditions and supply chain problems. They could still bid again. There's another round of procurement open with bids due in January, but only 800 megawatts of that 5,600 needed, are actually still under contract.

Gov. Maura Healey attended a legislative briefing on three bills. They were focused on using organized labor in the development of new clean energy. So, the briefing was held in the members lounge of the House of Representatives, and there, Rep. Marjorie Decker, encouraged Healey to think about who should deal with those policies. Now, I find that interesting. Chris, Rep. Decker suggested that with 200 House members and 6,000 bills under consideration, that might not be the best avenue. Do lawmakers make that suggestion often to the administration?

It's a pretty rare instance for a lawmaker to say out loud, it's faster for the executive branch to do something using their existing authority. And you can understand why lawmakers in both branches like to hang on to their own power and wield that. I'd say more often you see that kind of rhetoric deployed in emergency situations, like, for example, the emergency shelter crisis we were just talking about. It's pretty rare to see it when it comes to a broader policy shift.

Carrie Healy hosts the local broadcast of "Morning Edition" at NEPM. She also hosts the station’s weekly government and politics segment “Beacon Hill In 5” for broadcast radio and podcast syndication.
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