A new state partnership with the United Way of Massachusetts Bay will support “overnight safety-net shelter” for families and pregnant individuals with no other shelter options.

The Healey administration’s latest response to the shelter crisis associated with migrant arrivals also came with an announcement that another 75 National Guard members are being activated to assist at emergency shelters, on top of the 300 members already deployed.

The United Way plans to administer a $5 million grant program as part of the partnership to provide funds to community organizations, faith-based groups and volunteer organizations to stand up short-term, overnight shelter sites. But it’s unclear how many people could seek overnight relief at those future sites and where they will be situated throughout the commonwealth.

Applications for the grants, which use federal money, will be available later this week, Emergency Assistance Director General Scott Rice said at a press conference Tuesday. Healey’s administration previously partnered with the United Way of Central Massachusetts to create the Massachusetts Farm Resiliency Fund following major flood damage.

“We hope community-based organizations will take deep advantage of this financial assistance available to them to offer temporary shelter for our shelter system,” Rice said. “And of course, as the state puts these new supports in place, we continue to ask the federal government to act to address the federal issues, to include the need for large-scale overflow sites for families. My top priority, first and foremost, will always be the safety and well-being of families and the people of Massachusetts, and all of us together to meet this challenge of working on this situation in the future.”

The launch of the grant fund comes hours after the House Ways and Means Committee advanced a $2.74 billion supplemental budget bill that includes the $250 million that Healey requested in September amid ballooning demand for the emergency shelter system.

The allocation carves out $50 million for the creation of a state-funded overflow emergency shelter site — or sites — for eligible families who are wait-listed to existing emergency shelters. Under the House’s proposal, Healey’s cap on the shelter system would be revoked if an overflow space isn’t operating within 30 days.

Officials expect Massachusetts to hit the administration’s imposed cap of 7,500 families in the emergency assistance shelter system — which Healey said Monday reflects the shortage of physical shelter space and human service providers — on Wednesday or Thursday, Rice said.

As of Tuesday morning, there were 7,439 families housed in emergency shelters, and more than half of those individuals are children, Rice said.

Healey and Lt. Gov. Kim Driscoll did not attend the press conference, and they had no public events on their schedule for Tuesday. A Healey spokesperson said the governor “has a full schedule today.”

The governor’s expanded use of the National Guard will support efforts at emergency shelter sites, such as helping with access to food, transportation, and medical care, as well as legal clinics to expedite the work authorization process for migrants. Rice said there’s a legal clinic scheduled for the week of Nov. 27, which is in addition to the clinic the administration is running next week with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

The administration said prospective sites include communal gathering spaces with restroom facilities and heat, such as community centers, school buildings, and places of worship. Grants could be used to support staff and supplies like cots, blankets and food. While Healey’s office has said the administration is spending $45 million each month to handle the surge of migrants, Rice said the $5 million grant fund “will go a long way” as a “number of community partners” are stepping up their support efforts.

Rice said he didn’t know how many overnight shelter sites could be created through the grant program, as he deferred the question to the United Way.

“We have positive indication that we have a lot of community partners that have the capacity to help,” Rice said when asked whether people could end up seeking shelter at Logan Airport or at hospital emergency departments.

Bob Giannino, president and CEO of United Way of Massachusetts Bay, said the money provides an “important early start” for the state to expand its short-term shelter capacity as winter approaches. The types of overnight shelter options, such as hotels and motels, are still being ironed out as providers determine the spaces they can offer to families, he said.

Giannino said United Way doesn’t know how many people could be accommodated. He called the developing plans a “heavy lift” and said the hope is to shelter “thousands” of families.

“We’re literally days into crafting this work, and so we’re confident that we’re going to be able to put up some locations in order to work on transitional needs that our families and migrants have,” Giannino said.

(Copyright (c) 2023 State House News Service.

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