BOSTON (WHDH) - Every morning that Jenny Lee Lopez wakes up she doesn’t know where she will fall asleep.

Most nights she said her and her four young children have stayed at an annex of the Boston Children’s Hospital.

“We sleep in a room where it is really cold. We sleep on air mattresses with other families in an open space and the only thing that divides us is a curtain sheet, hospital kind of style,” she described. “They don’t even have showers for us. We use the bathroom and we are just kind of using toilets as washing bowls honestly.”

While it is far from a home, she said it’s better than the alternative; the hard open floor of the Boston Logan International Airport.

“We are not living in a humane situation. This is not humane. This is not OK. ,” Lopez said.

Lopez and four young children have been homeless since moving to Boston in December. She is one of the nearly 700 families waiting for emergency shelter.

Lopez is a U.S. Citizen. She was furloughed at her job in Texas as an EMT and started falling behind on rent. She thought there would be more resources in Massachusetts to help her get back on her feet. She said that hasn’t been the case.

“I’ve reached out to many agencies. I’ve asked for help from everybody and nobody is in the position to help,” Lopez said.

Historically, Massachusetts has been able to provide immediate shelter for families in need.

The state is legally obligated to do so after passing the ‘right-to-shelter’ law in 1983.

An influx of migrants and rising housing costs created so much demand in 2023 that the state was unable to provide emergency shelter for everyone for the first time in 40 years.

“We are really concerned by the dramatic increase in the numbers who aren’t being served,” said Kelly Turley, the associate director of the Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless.

Governor Maura Healey declared a state of emergency and set a cap for emergency shelter at 7,500 families. That cap was reached in November and left the state scrambling to aid the growing number of families, like Lopez’s, who were left out.

The state said around half of the people in emergency shelter are migrants, while the other half are U.S. Citizens.

Turley explained to access state resources families are only eligible if they have some type of legal immigration status in the United States.

“Whether they are a citizen, a green card holder or they’ve presented to border patrol that they have to have permission to stay in the U.S. So if a family is completely undocumented they aren’t able to access these resources,” Turely said.

She said the current emergency shelter crisis is partially caused by a lack of investment in homelessness prevention resources and long-term housing solutions.

Lopez said the nights that her family stays at the hospital they have to leave by the morning. They are shuttled to welcome centers the state has set up for homeless and migrants where they spend the day; waiting for updates and hoping to get off the waitlist.

“It’s horrible and it smells. It’s a big auditorium and there are people sleeping on the side. There is luggage all around the borders of the wall. There are people everywhere,. There are children running around,” she described.

While they hope to land back at the hospital, the spots are first-come, first-serve, so a bed is not guaranteed each day.

A spokesperson for Boston Children’s Hospital did not respond to questions about these accommodations, but did confirm the hospital has seen a rise in homeless families seeking shelter in the emergency department.

“We remain dedicated to finding long-term solutions for these families by collaborating with community and state agencies to advocate for families needing secure and stable housing and the necessary resources,” a hospital spokesperson wrote.

The state is not funding resources at the hospital.

Lopez said she wants to be able to get a job to afford her own place but the lack of stable shelter is a barrier. Without a permanent place to stay her kids are unable to go to school and that means she is unable to apply for jobs.

“It’s very overwhelming. It’s very frustrating. I’m trying to be strong for my kids but it’s a very hard situation,” Lopez said.

She said she was told it could take six months for her to get off the waitlist.

“We are just a burden in the state’s hands,” Lopez said.

Turely said she expects the waiting list to continue to grow in the months ahead. In November, 7 News reported 17 families were on the waitlist. By December the list grew to 400 families and now that list has grown to nearly 700.

“We really need to make the investments that are needed now and also look at the longer term to be able to address some of the underlying housing issues that predate the current emergency shelter crisis,” Turley said.

Massachusetts lawmakers passed a bill in December that sets aside $250 million for shelter for families in need, along with overflow sites.

State officials are trying to get creative to expand temporary housing and have opened multiple overflow sites since December but the demand keeps growing. A MBTA office and a former courthouse have been converted into overflow sites

Earlier this month, the state opened the Melnea A. Cass Recreational Complex to serve as an overflow site for around 100 families on the waitlist.

“There are a list of colleges, schools, community centers and other spaces that could potentially be used and we are hoping that the number of these overflow places are really brought to scale and that those spaces are available more broadly across the Commonwealth so that families don’t have to be disrupted and uprooted from their home communities to access these temporary sites ,” Turley said.

Families like Lopez’s are also hoping some sort of relief comes soon.

“Mentally it is draining me, it is draining me and I am crying out for help at this point,” Lopez said.

To find out more about the state’s emergency shelter program, click here.

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