BOSTON (AP) — Lawyers representing homeless families in Massachusetts are asking the courts to temporarily bar the state from capping the number of families offered emergency shelter.
Democratic Gov. Maura Healey has said the state will cap the number of families at 7,500 and create a waiting list. Those with the highest needs will prioritized, Healey said.
As of Tuesday, the state reported 7,389 families were enrolled in the state’s emergency shelter system. Healey said 40 to 50 new families are requesting shelter each day and that an influx of migrants is driving the spike in demand.
Critics say Healey’s plan violates the state’s “right-to-shelter” law. Under the law, Massachusetts is legally required to provide shelter to eligible families through the emergency assistance program.
Lawyers for Civil Rights, a nonprofit based in Boston, filed the class-action lawsuit on behalf of three families on the brink of homelessness, arguing that Healey’s changes are being rushed into place without any public process or required notice to the Legislature.
When the Legislature funded the program, it required the agency in charge — the Executive Office of Housing and Livable Communities — to give lawmakers 90 days notice of any changes in case they wanted to intervene, lawyers for the group argued.
A ruling could come down as early as Wednesday about whether the Healey administration can institute the cap and wait list without the 90 day notice.
Healey said the state isn’t abandoning the right to shelter law, but has to deal with shelter capacity.
“We do not have the shelter space, the physical space. We do not have the number of shelter providers and service providers to be able to withstand this capacity and we don’t have the funding,” Healey said Tuesday on WBUR.
Kelly Turley, director of the Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless, called the cap artificial and said it could force families to make untenable choices.
“For families right now that are ineligible for shelter they’re often going back to unsafe places. They’re staying doubled or tripled-up with family members or friends, going to hospital emergency rooms, staying in cars, campgrounds,” she said.
Also Tuesday, Edward Augustus the state’s secretary of housing and livable communities, issued a declaration finding the current rate of expansion in the emergency shelter program unsustainable. The declaration helps pave the way for the creation of the wait list and cap on new families.
Healey said a larger problem is the lack of enough affordable housing in the state. Earlier this month. Healey unveiled a $4 billion bill aimed at creating new homes and making housing more affordable.
On Monday, Healey announced that the state is teaming with federal officials to help migrants apply for work authorization permits and move out of the shelter system.
Democratic Massachusetts House Speaker Ronald Mariano said Monday the House has no plans to change the 1983 right-to-shelter law but continues to evaluate the need for additional funding.
Families are spread out across hundreds of locations in 90 cities and towns in a range of facilities, from traditional shelters to temporary sites like college dorms.