Mass. launches work clinic for migrants

Local News

The clinic is part of a larger effort to free up space in the state’s emergency shelter system, which reached capacity last week.

Mass. Gov. Maura Healey declares a state of emergency regarding the state’s emergency shelter system in August. Steve LeBlanc/AP

Massachusetts officials launched a work authorization clinic for migrants staying in emergency shelters Monday, four days after the state’s system hit capacity. 

The clinic was first announced in late October, as Gov. Maura Healey sought to find ways to help free up space in the emergency shelter system. It is the product of a partnership between the state and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, designed to help those in emergency shelters support themselves and, eventually, find housing outside the system. 

Officials said at the time that the clinic would be held in Middlesex County. Lt. Governor Kim Driscoll told Boston 25 News that the clinic was set to open Monday, but that its specific location would not be disclosed to the public due to safety concerns. Driscoll said that the clinic will be able to take in hundreds of people a day. 

Healey’s office did not immediately respond to requests for comment Monday. 

In the months since declaring a state of emergency regarding the shelter system, Healey has been pressuring federal officials to provide additional funding and expedite the work authorization process for migrants. The state has many employers looking for new workers, she has said, and newly-arrived migrants with valuable skills want to work but are being held up by red tape. 

In response, DHS officials were dispatched from Washington to assess the situation in Massachusetts last month. The work clinic was announced afterwards. The state is booking appointments and providing transportation from shelter sites to the clinic, while federal workers will be onsite to “help collect and process work authorizations.”

About a month ago, Healey warned that the shelter system could not safely support more than 7,500 families, a threshold it crossed last week. There were 7,545 families in the system as of Friday, according to state data. More than 3,800 are staying in hotels and motels, while more than 3,600 are staying in traditional shelters. 

The Healey administration is now placing families seeking shelter on waitlists, with priority going to those that are in the most vulnerable circumstances. Officials are focusing on ways to get people to safely exit the shelter system so that more room can be freed up. The work authorization clinic is one part of those efforts, along with skills training, rental aid, and legal services. A $5 million grant program will help local organizations set up more shelter space. The state will host a legal clinic the week of Nov. 27. 

The Massachusetts House of Representatives advanced legislation last week that would put $250 million into the shelter system, including a $50 million carve-out for an overflow site. It still needs to be approved by the Senate.