The Bay State Correctional Center is slated to become a new overflow shelter.

Massachusetts Adding Family Shelters at former Norfolk correctional facility

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By Alison Kuznitz
State House News Service

State officials are planning to open an overflow shelter at a former Norfolk correctional facility next month that can accommodate about 140 families, a move from the Healey administration that drew frustration from a Republican lawmaker.

The Bay State Correctional Center, a former minimum-security prison that closed in 2015, is slated to house around 450 individuals starting in mid-June, Rep. Marcus Vaughn of Wrentham said in a letter posted on social media Friday evening.

“I regret to inform you that Norfolk has been chosen as the next site for an overflow shelter, a decision I received with deep disappointment this Friday afternoon,” Vaughn wrote to Norfolk residents. “However, I firmly believe in transparency, hence I feel it’s crucial to share this news with you.”

Vaughn said administration officials are opening the site due to “mounting concerns” over migrant families staying at Logan Airport, though he warned situating a shelter in Norfolk could affect local schools and public safety.

“Undoubtedly, this development will strain our school systems in Norfolk and at King Philip Middle and High school and will likely impact public safety infrastructure, concerns I emphasized during our discussion with the Governor’s office,” Vaughn wrote. “While assurances were given regarding on-site security, I intend to meet with [Police] Chief [Timothy] Heinz to explore avenues to mitigate the burden on our town’s public safety departments. Acknowledging the financial strain on our schools, I conveyed our concerns about reimbursement to the Governor’s office, who assured us of ongoing dialogue with the Department of Elementary and Secondary Educational (DESE) to address these challenges.”

Sen. Becca Rausch, a Needham Democrat, struck a different tone about the Norfolk shelter in a statement she issued Monday afternoon.

“I hope no one would want to see pregnant women, children, and families without shelter,” Rausch said. “At the same time, the impacts of an influx of more than 400 people, including many school-aged children, to a town with a population of only 11,500 must be managed carefully and responsibly. I have expressed to the Administration my concerns regarding significant student needs, increased demands on town water and other infrastructure, additional municipal financial burdens, and the general suitability of Bay State Correctional as an emergency overflow shelter.”

Rausch said she’s also reached out to local government partners.

“I remain committed to my service to the Town of Norfolk and helping navigate this situation, made even more difficult due to the absence of financial or other assistance from the federal government,” she said.

Scott Rice, the state’s emergency assistance director, said the former prison is in “good condition.” The facility has dorm rooms, with bathrooms and showers on every floor, Rice said.

“Additionally, the facility has a cafeteria, a gymnasium, a large common room, and offices that will be utilized for case management and administrative activities,” Rice said in a statement. “The site will be set up with play areas for children, as well as classroom spaces for adults to engage in activities that support pathways to stability such as ESOL classes, job training courses, and housing search workshops.”

Norfolk town officials said they met with Lt. Gov. Kim Driscoll on Saturday and learned the shelter will operate for six to 12 months.

“An unexpected influx of a large number of families poses many logistical challenges to Norfolk. Town Administrator Justin Casanova-Davis, Police Chief Timothy Heinz, Fire Chief Erron Kinney, Norfolk School Superintendent Ingrid Allardi, King Philip Superintendent Rich Drolet, and other department leaders will be meeting regularly in the coming days,” the town said in a statement Monday. “This group will develop a comprehensive list of potential impacts to the town and develop strategies to continue to deliver regular municipal services without interruption.”

A razor fence around the facility will be removed, according to a spokesperson for the Executive Office of Housing and Livable Communities.

The shelter is intended to serve families who are currently on the waitlist for the state’s overburdened emergency family shelter system. Many of those families are spending their nights at Logan Airport, the spokesperson said. Once off the waitlist and placed in the emergency shelter system, families stay in more traditional shelter spaces, as well as motels and hotels.

The spokesperson said schools are receiving state financial assistance to cover enrollment and other costs tied to students staying at emergency shelters.

Grappling with dozens of migrant families sleeping at Logan Airport this winter, the Healey administration opened a controversial overflow site at a Roxbury community center in January with the capacity to house around 100 families. But the shelter based at the Cass Recreation Center is slated to close at the end of the month, the EOHLC spokesperson said.

To keep up with demand for emergency housing amid a crush of migrants in Massachusetts, officials are also planning to open a shelter at a National Guard armory in Lexington this month, the spokesperson said. It will be able to accommodate 55 families.

“The Armory is a State-owned property and we were not involved in the decision-making process to utilize this space as a shelter for families and children who are unhoused, including those who have recently arrived in the State. This site is being organized and operated entirely by the State,” Lexington officials said last week. “This overflow shelter will operate as a closed facility. Only authorized personnel will be allowed into the building, which will remain operational as a hub for National Guard operations.”

“The Town of Lexington is proud to support local and regional efforts to ensure individuals and families have access to food, clothing, and shelter – no matter where they come from or how they arrive here,” said Lexington Town Manager James Malloy. “Our Town and this country were founded by those took action, not because they needed to, but because they wanted to. We will gladly follow the State’s lead in taking action to help those in need.”

Families staying at the Norfolk and Lexington shelters will need to be recertified each month, the EOHLC spokesperson. They must provide documents showing they have participated in case management and housing efforts, under requirements Gov. Maura Healey rolled out in March.

About Michael Silvia

Served 20 years in the United States Air Force. Owner of New Bedford Guide.

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