Catholic Charities opens family emergency shelter to help deal with crisis

BRAINTREE -- Catholic Charities Boston has opened a new emergency shelter for homeless and migrant families in the Boston area, with the help of a $5 million grant program from the state and United Way of Mass Bay.

The shelter, which opened on Nov. 21, can house 27 families, or 81 people. It comes at a time when families without shelter, particularly Haitian migrants fleeing the collapse of their country's government, have overwhelmed the state's shelter system.

"The fact is that they're human beings," Catholic Charities President Kelley Tuthill said in a Dec. 4 interview, "particularly vulnerable children and babies."

Catholic Charities was the first organization to receive funding from the grant program, which launched on Nov. 7. Tuthill is unsure how much money Catholic Charities will receive but said it should be "enough to basically operate the costs of running the shelter."

In November, Massachusetts Gov. Maura Healey announced that the state's shelter system had reached capacity at 7,500 families. This required families to be put on a "waitlist" for adequate shelter. According to the Massachusetts Executive Office of Housing and Liveable Communities, over 100 people were on the waitlist as of Nov. 21.

Tuthill called the waitlist "daunting" and "overwhelming," "but that can't deter our determination to have an impact in any way we can."

She said that emergency shelters "are not ideal, but the only alternative is the street, and that's not acceptable when you're talking about babies."

She praised Catholic Charities staff for taking the time out of their Thanksgiving holiday to help those in need.

"The teams at Catholic Charities have done an incredible job under such serious pressure," she said. "We had less than a week to open this shelter, and it came during a holiday period."

She also thanked the St. Vincent de Paul Society, which provided beds for the shelter.

"I see good all around us," she said. "Everywhere I look, people are pitching in."

Throughout the crisis, Tuthill has been in contact with the Healey administration and sympathizes with state officials as they handle the unprecedented surge in migration.

"I think they're trying to tackle it," she said, "and it's their hope that there will be a larger site that is available, and they're waiting for funding to do so."

On Dec. 4, the Massachusetts House voted to advance a spending bill that would give $250 million in additional funding to the state shelter system and mandate that Healey use up to $50 million of those funds to create new emergency shelters.

"I do think that the legislature will do the right thing and make the funding available," Tuthill said. "At this point, we need to focus on keeping people safe, and that's what Catholic Charities is doing."

Along with providing shelter, Catholic Charities helps migrants get access to work permits, legal counsel, and permanent housing.

"The supply is quite limited," Tuthill said of affordable housing, "but we do have housing case managers that are working."

A family staying at the Catholic Charities Inn, which opened in June in response to the shelter crisis, recently moved into permanent housing. Seeing that made Tuthill proud.

"It's a start," she said. "We're pleased to see that, and we wish there were more."