top of page
  • Edrina Laude

Massachusetts’ Migrant Housing Crisis: Boston’s Hynes Convention Center Proposed as a Shelter Site

Courtesy of Boston Magazine

As Massachusetts’ emergency family shelter system reaches its 7,500 family limit, Massachusetts House Speaker Ron Mariano (D-MA) has suggested that Boston’s Hynes Convention Center be used as an overflow shelter site in order to reduce the strain currently on the system. This statement came after the state shared the news that a waitlist will open once the limit has been reached, which under the state’s current plan, would force migrant families to reach out to community partners in hopes that they will receive temporary housing in the meantime.

Due to the potential overflow, government officials and residents are concerned about what will happen to these families while they are on the waitlist. While community partners will be able to provide some support to these waitlisted families, the amount of aid they can provide is limited, making an uptick in homelessness likely.

Mariano says to avoid this uptick, it is best to find temporary overflow sites where they can live while still being on the waitlist for shelters. "Where are these people going to go? Where do they spend the night when they come in here on a Friday night at seven o'clock? Are they going to go directly to the Common and bed down for the night?” Mariano said in an interview with Boston25 News.

However, some Bostonians are doubtful about how successful the center would be as a shelter site. Commuters state that the center’s location, which is near the popular Newbury Street shopping district, may cause a large amount of foot traffic. Additionally, they argue that the center’s floor plan, which includes open exhibit halls, meeting rooms, a ballroom, and an auditorium, makes it difficult to transform the center into a potential shelter site.

Though many may be skeptical about the transformation of the convention center into an overflow shelter site, it has previously proven to be useful in state emergencies. For example, during the COVID-19 pandemic, Hynes Convention Center was used as a mass vaccination site. But, Bostonians and refugee experts agree that the center would have to be a temporary and short-term site, especially since the center’s slow season is from December to February. Once spring begins, the convention center becomes a hot spot for large events such as the Boston Marathon and numerous expositions and galas.

While Massachusetts is struggling to house migrants with its limited emergency family shelter system, some critics of the state’s waitlist plan, such as the nonprofit Lawyers for Civil Rights, believe that this limit should not exist in the first place. They state that due to Massachusetts’ ‘right to shelter law,’ which requires the state to provide eligible underprivileged families housing through an emergency family shelter system, Massachusetts must provide all eligible families housing without waitlisting or otherwise limiting the number of families who can access emergency shelters. Jacob Love, an attorney with the nonprofit, stated that the creation of a housing waitlist is equivalent to a fire department “creating a waitlist for families with ongoing house fires.” The nonprofit filed a class action lawsuit against the state in late October, but a Superior Judge denied the nonprofit’s request to temporarily prohibit a waitlist.

On the other hand, Massachusetts House Republicans are concerned about the amount of families in the emergency family shelter system. This was expressed by a rejected Republican-led amendment to a spending bill that funded the shelter and established overflow sites. The amendment would have prohibited families from the emergency family shelter system if they lived in Massachusetts for less than a year, denying migrant families who have recently arrived.

Additionally, it’s important to note that cities such as Chicago, New York, and Washington D.C., which are all considered sanctuary cities by Time Magazine, are dealing with their own migrant crisis, partly due to the busing of migrants from the southern border to these cities. The busing of these migrants is paid for by state operations led by Republican governors across the southern border, such as Greg Abbott (R-TX) and Ron DeSantis (R-FL). DeSantis wrote on Twitter, “Florida is using all tools available to protect our citizens from Biden’s open border policies. I am glad to have signed legislation to continue the program of transporting illegal aliens to sanctuary jurisdictions.”

In an interview with Face the Nation, Democratic Illinois Governor JB Pritzker (D-IL) stated that “...someone needs to work in Texas with these border politicians to have them stop sending people only to blue cities and blue states.” However, with the Democratic Party’s pro-immigration views and policies, it is extremely easy fo Pritzker argues that Republican-led states have weaponized Democrats’ pro-immigration messaging by busing migrants to Democratic cities, then pointing to shelter crises for political gain. For example, DeSantis wrote on Twitter after U.S. military veterans could not find housing before the December 9th Army-Navy game, “What a farce. When I am president, the days of putting illegals aliens over Americans will be over.”

While the debate over migrant housing and shelters spreads across the nation, it’s essential to recognize the families who are affected by this ongoing legislation. Satoumata Sou, a mother from Guinea who fled the country to protect her 17 month old daughter from genital mutilation, arrived in Boston on November 13. Though she is currently staying with a friend, Sou is unsure of how long she can stay with her. Programs like the emergency family shelter system and potential overflow sites could help Sou remain in the country, but current residency requirements would require Sou to stay with her friend for a year— placing a high burden on Sou’s friend and leaving Sou in a constant state of worry.

When considering how programs such as Massachusetts’ emergency family shelter system should function and be funded, it is important to keep a compassionate and humanistic approach. Relevant as the financial, legal, and political battles that often occur when establishing these programs are, simply casting aside the struggles and obstacles these migrant families face diminishes the true purpose of these systems and the significant relief it provides them.


bottom of page