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Massachusetts turns recreational plex into shelter for homeless families, including migrants

BOSTON (AP) — Massachusetts Gov. Maura Healey and Boston Mayor Michelle Wu toured a recreational complex Wednesday hours ahead of its planned opening as a temporary shelter site for families experiencing homelessness, including migrants.

Healey said about 75 individuals were expected to arrive at the Cass Recreational Complex, located in the city’s Roxbury neighborhood, before the end of the day. The complex can provide temporary shelter for up to 400 people, or about 100-125 families, as the state continues to grapple with an influx of homeless migrants.

“We're here today because we really don't have a choice,” she said. “Families continue to come into this country, continue to come to Massachusetts, and we have over the last several months opened up locations throughout the state.”

There are currently three larger state-operated overflow family shelter sites. The location in Roxbury, one of the city’s traditionally Black neighborhoods, will be the fourth.

The others are located in Revere (150 rooms), Quincy (57 rooms) and Cambridge, which can accommodate 200 people or about 57 families.

There are also smaller emergency shelter sites in about 90 communities.

Those using the overflow sites are among 656 families currently on a wait list hoping to get into the state's emergency family shelter program. Healey last year capped the number of people in the shelter program at 7,500 and created the wait list.

Healey and Wu, both Democrats. have called on the Biden administration for more help in dealing with the influx of migrants.

Boston isn't alone, Wu said.

“I hear from mayors all around the country on a regular basis. I just had two conversations in the last couple of days around the stresses and the challenges that this crisis of migrant families needing services and shelter and homes are presenting at every level of government," she said.

“The federal machinery needs a lot of fixing,” she added. ”It needs action and it has needed that for decades."

Healey said the Roxbury site is temporary and families will be out before June. She said programs that were scheduled to take place at the center will be moved to other nearby locations and that renovations will be made to the complex. She also said the state will rely on local businesses to provide some of the services needed to run the shelter site.

“I am grateful to the community of Roxbury," Healey said.

People in the neighborhood had mixed reactions to the new shelter.

Clifton A. Braithwaite, 56, a city council candidate and community activist, said he’s concerned about seniors and others who rely on programs at the center as a place to meet and exercise.

“I don’t know if the plan they have is going to work either for the immigrants or Boston citizens,” he said. “But one thing I know, to close a functional building down for three months that services the people of this community is a tragedy, because where are they going to go?”

Audra White, 41, who lives around the corner from the recreational complex, said she was troubled when she returned from a vacation in September and saw homeless migrants and their children sleeping on the floor at Logan International Airport.

"Logan airport is not an appropriate place to have people living in hallways," she said. “At the Cass, there are showers, there are bathrooms. People can actually wash," she said, referring to the Cass Recreational Complex.

“If the options are Logan or the Cass, I think the Cass is the better option," she said.

In Chicago, Mayor Brandon Johnson has announced the city will again extend its 60-day limit on shelter stays for asylum seekers, just days ahead of a deadline that could have evicted nearly 2,000 migrants.

Johnson said Monday the idea is to give people more time to resettle and find work. The policy change adds 30 to 60 more days for roughly 14,000 migrants already living in the city’s 28 shelters, which include warehouses and park district buildings.

As many as 800 asylum seekers have lived temporarily at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, sleeping on the floor and on cots at a shuttle bus center. Some stay there for weeks at a time while they await beds at one of the city’s 28 shelters or can make other arrangements. Chicago’s daily migrant dashboard showed 128 living at O’Hare as of Wednesday.

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Associated Press reporter Sophia Tareen contributed to this report from Chicago.