Judge expected to rule on Governor Healey’s emergency shelter cap

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Sometime this week, Massachusetts expects to reach capacity for emergency housing -- with 7,500 families placed. Three weeks ago, Governor indicated that number would be considered full capacity and that others needing emergency housing would have to go on a waitlist.

“We’re seeing something unprecedented in terms of the numbers coming in,” Healey told Boston 25 News. “With this influx of new arrivals, 40 to 50 people coming in a day to Massachusetts, the system is really stretched in capacity.”

The state is obligated to provide housing to homeless families and pregnant women under the Right-to-Shelter law. But housing officials budgeted $325 million this fiscal year for the program -- with the intention of serving 4,100 families. An influx of migrants -- many seeking refuge from war-torn countries such as Haiti, is behind the near-doubling of the numbers. The Housing Secretary expects that will result in a deficit of at least $210 million.

Healey submitted a $250 million supplemental budget last week to help cover those costs, but the legislature has yet to act on it. The governor is also pushing to make it easier for migrants to work because, she says, she can’t wait for the federal government to decide on employment rules.

Tuesday morning, housing activists demonstrated in front of the State House, imploring the Governor to postpone the planned housing waitlist.

“I think (7,500) is a somewhat arbitrary cap,” said Kelly Turley from the Massachusetts Commission for the Homeless. “The state has continuously added capacity as needed to accommodate the number of families approved for shelter. But as of now, with the waiting list idea, there’s no guarantee that there will be a safe place for families to stay while they’re waiting for a longer-term shelter placement.”

“I work with families experiencing homelessness every day,” said Adam Hoole of Greater Boston Legal Services. “These are families sleeping in the streets, they’re sleeping in cars, they’re sleeping in places unfit for human habitation. These actions by the state are going to cause these families and these children to continue to sleep in places that are unsafe.”

State Rep. Marjorie Decker (D-Cambridge) said part of the problem is there’s no indication how the waitlist would function. “We actually can guarantee that many families won’t get on the waitlist, will never be contacted, because they don’t have a way of being reached.”

But Tuesday afternoon, the Governor issued emergency regulations to outline how the waitlist would operate -- about half an hour before housing advocates took their case against a 7,500 family cap to a Suffolk County Judge.

Jacob Love of Lawyers for Civil Rights argued the Healey Administration did not follow the law in setting a cap on emergency housing because the Administrative Procedures Act requires the legislature to get 90-days notice before making such a change -- to allow for the possibility of additional funding.

Kimberly Parr, the state’s attorney, said the Housing Secretary, Ed Augustus, has the right to promulgate regulations in an emergency.

Judge Debra Squires-Lee took the matter under advisement, but said she plans to issue a decision by Wednesday.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates as more information becomes available.

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