HomeNewsState Refugee Crisis Reaches Hopkinton's Neighbors

State Refugee Crisis Reaches Hopkinton’s Neighbors

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The State’s refugee crisis is expanding across Metrowest, and Hopkinton’s Board of Health is working overtime to keep up with demand.

“We’ve never seen anything like this,” said Director Shaun McAullife.

In 1983, shortly after Governor Michael Dukakis was sworn in, he signed what became known as the “right-to-shelter” law. Massachusetts is the only state in the nation that requires officials to quickly provide shelter and other necessities to homeless parents with children, pregnant women, and now, the large influx of migrant families arriving in Massachusetts. Forty years later, this legislation has pushed the the system of shelters to the breaking point, prompting Governor Maura Healey to declare a State of Emergency on August 8. “The state does not have enough shelter, space, service, providers, or funding to safely expand beyond 7500 families,” Healey said.

There are currently 7,543 families in emergency shelter, constituting more that 23,000 individuals, according to Lt. General Scott Rice, the state’s emergency assistance Director.

State law defines refugees as people who are “unable or unwilling to return to, [or are] unable or unwilling to avail [themself] of the protection of their country because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.” 

State officials estimate that as many has half of the migrants have come from Haiti, the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere, and one that has been rocked by political instability and natural disasters for decades. Other refugees are arriving from Ukraine, Russia and parts of Africa.

Massachusetts taxpayers are spending more than $45 million per month to house homeless residents and refugees in existing shelters as well as hotels across the Commonwealth. Large numbers of refugees are now living within miles of Hopkinton, with families housed in Westborough, Milford, Northborough, Marlborough and Framingham. Director McAullife says there are also refugees living in Hopkinton, sheltering with family members, and in some cases, living in cars. The state’s Emergency Assistance family shelter program website shows a real-time map of where refugees are currently living.

The process for setting up housing is anything but seamless. According to several local health directors we interviewed, state officials will typically provide 30-minute notice to the community leaders that they will be dropping families off, often as many as 100 people at a time. It is then on the local health department to coordinate with the town’s emergency manager (typically the fire chief) and Youth & Family services. While the state picks up the tab for the hotel, municipal funds are used to purchase the food and goods to get the families settled.

But towns typically don’t operate large scale food service operations to meet this type of demand, so the responsibility is falling to individuals, local food banks and churches. “Some of our refugee families are walking in the door with flip-flops on,” said Cherylann Lambert Walsh, President of Project Just Because. “They are from warm climates and have never experienced anything like a New England winter.”

Stretched to capacity, neighboring Health Directors have contacted Hopkinton for assistance. Working with nonprofit partners in the community, Director McAullife and his team scrambled to provide the food, water and clothing these families need. At the middle school, McAuliffe created a program to recover leftover breakfast items from the Free & Reduced lunch program that would typically go to waste. That food is now being transported to Project Just Because for delivery to needy families, and they have recovered more than 500 pounds of food already. The school district often has leftover prepared food, such as pizzas, that McAuliffe is working to get sent to the YMCA for their after-school program.

Beyond food, the Hopkinton BOH is providing COVID and Influenza vaccines, and immunizations for children so they can attend school. Over the past year, the BOH has distributed $405,000 worth of COVID test kits, with 95% going to Hopkinton residents. The kits were donated by the state.

BOH nurse Emilia Muamya administers the influenza vaccine to a resident. The Board of Health ran a pop-up vaccination station at Project Just Because on Wednesday, November 29.

In Northborough, Health Director Kristin Black highlighted several recent success stories. Their emergency shelter opened on July 25, and according to Black, 90% of the residents are originally from Haiti. Thirty of them are under the age of 18, and many have come from small villages. 

“It’s not glamorous work, but I’m very proud of what we are doing as a community to enrich their lives and make them successful,” said Black.

Because the hotel has no place to cook, the Northborough BOH is providing two meals per day and have coordinated with the National Guard, who is onsite to schedule transportation and ensure food is delivered. Prepared meals are coming from an organization in Boston.

Hopkinton has been there when Northborough needed it, said Black. “They magically showed up with boxes of new shoes and clothing right before school started,” she said. “What we didn’t use we sent to the shelter in Sutton, and they sent the remaining items further west. We called it the Shoe Train.” Behind the scenes, this effort was coordinated by McAullife and Lambert Walsh, who also supplemented Northborough families with a coat drive.

Clearing the legal obstacles to allow refugees to work is a top priority for Director Black. “These people really want to work, to support their family and to start rebuilding their lives,” said Black. The biggest obstacle is navigating the legal process to get the necessary work permits. Recently, Black and her staff coordinated an information session to teach residents how to apply for work permits. All 70 adults in the shelter attended and applied. Permits are now coming in every day, and two residents have been hired at the hotel housing the refugees. 

Black’s department is also providing English language learning classes, and has coordinated with their local YMCA to plan holiday parties for the families. “The YMCA has been a tremendous partner, opening up their facility to offer family memberships,” she said.

Contrary to some national narratives that the influx of migrants has created a crime wave, this is decidedly not the case in Northborough. “The police department reports far fewer calls to that location than before,” said Black. “These are families who put their kids to bed by 8:00”.

“No one would choose this kind of life unless they were escaping an unsafe situation, and it was perilous journey to get here. You only do that when you’re desperate,” said Black.

Director McAuliffe made a point to highlight his team at the Health Department. “We are blessed to have such an incredibly caring staff,” he said. “They are the right people working for the right reasons.”

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18 COMMENTS

    • That is a rude and uninformed opinion. The US has had refugee laws on the books since 1948 (Displaced Persons Act). These families are in the US LEGALLY.

  1. We, the beleaguered taxpayers are bearing the burden of these illegals and they should be returned to their country of origin! They bring disease, commit crimes and are a horrible drain on our country! Take care of our veterans and homeless!

    • Being racist and xenophobic won’t solve any issues. Advocating for veterans and homeless is necessary, but so is protecting refugees. Both can be done. The language you used in this post is such an oversimplification of the reality and the rhetoric used is dangerous and objectively incorrect.

  2. I understand the need for compassion toward people who are escaping a violent or similar situation. We as a country have set up procedures to follow to seek asylum that should need to be followed in order to ensure safety for those already here. Unfortunate the current administration has waived the process and has opened the borders wide to anyone, for what ever reason, to walk across unfettered, despite lying to the people constantly stating that the border is secured. Now, while many of the people are coming over looking for a better life that America could possibly give them, we have no way to make sure no one with nefarious intent is making it in. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want criminals, gang members, drugs that are killing Americans, sex trafficking of both children and adults coming here, we have enough problems. By supporting a wide open border you are supporting not only the good, but you are supporting the bad. It’s like not having locks on your house and having a sign out welcoming everyone to live off of you – you want to know who is ringing the doorbell before letting them in to reside with you and your children. I support immigration, but I do not support unchecked and unwelcomed individuals and that is where we have the problem in this country right now.

    • Dear Uncle: It is a breath of fresh air to see an informed and balanced statement like yours. Thank you for taking the time to write it. I could not have said it better myself!

  3. The immigration crisis is much more nuanced than Gloria or Anonymous have stated. They numbers of illegal immigrants coming over the Southern border has reached numbers never seen before. Some Texas cities (populations of around 100,000 if I recall) are receiving1500 to 2000 illegal migrants EVERY WEEK! Many of them have passed through other nations that were accepting of them and that could have assimilated them. The only reason Hopkinton is not affected to the same extent is only a matter of geography. As a nation, we need to grab the issue by the horns and not allow an unfettered illegal migration across the border. In addition, we need to stream line the process for migrants to apply for legal entry into our country. Republicans and Democrats are at fault for not creating a system that is makes sense and that meets the needs of the US and the migrants that are looking for entry into the US. Finally, all those migrants that are here illegally, should have to register immediately and have their cases adjudicated as soon as possible.

    • Goncalves – a Portuguese name if I’m not mistaken? How and when did your family arrive in the US? The only reason Hopkinton is not affected by the current crisis is because we don’t have any hotels. Geography has less to do with it. Bus tickets are cheap.

  4. This is beginning to sound like a Fox News echo chamber. It’s a wonder Trump has not scheduled a campaign stop in Hop.

    Judging from your surnames (McMillan, Scanlon, Wilkinson), which are of Irish/English descent, there is little doubt your great-grandfather endured similarly withering criticism as he stepped off the boat without a pot to piss in. Thank heavens there were Catholic charities, the St. Vincent De Paul Society, and the AOH to help him get settled in his new and strange country. From the article, today it’s Boards of Health doing this work.

    Your grandfather picked up a shovel or a hammer or whatever it was he did to earn a living for his family and he paid taxes on the wages he earned. Those taxes went to build schools so that his children and their children and ultimately you were able to get an education, so that you now have the luxury of sitting back and shitting on all the people that want the same type of life for their offspring.

    You want to blame someone? Blame Putin for invading the Ukraine and displacing millions of people. Blame the French for extracting every natural resource they could from Haiti and then leaving it an impoverished, corrupt and violent island nation. Blame your 1980’s Congress and governor making a law you now disagree with. But don’t blame victims for wanting a better life for their children. You would want that too. 

    This is not “Us” vs. “Them”. Your grandfather was “Them”. Think about it.

    • I take some exception to your characterization of people based on their viewpoint. For example, my parents initially came here legally under a student visa but for reasons I won’t go into, had to leave the country. They then reapplied and were granted a second visa, and finally became citizens. If anyone should be upset, is those people who spent thousands of dollars to gain legal entry into this country to then see thousands of people simply walk across the border. Many of these people are simply economic migrants – not being persecuted but simply looking for a better life. While I understand WHY they are coming, I don’t agree with their methods of entry! For those who are facing persecution, then every effort should be made to assist them but when you have overwhelming numbers of people their reasons for entry loses meaning.

      • This article is about refugees, not immigration in general. To be classified as a “refugee” there are certain legal standards. Economics is not one of them. You have to have a legitimate fear of persecution, list the reasons for persecution (religious, political opinion, etc.), be unable to get protection in your home country, AND MOST IMPORTANTLY, not have committed a crime in your home country. If you meet those standards then you are classified as a refugee by UN laws (1951).

  5. How many of you would be upset if these were from western Europe?

    Davis is calling and needs you back in Richmond.

    Go home terrorists.

  6. As we enter the holiday season, many of us are preparing for celebrating Christmas. For those that follow the Christian faith, what were the circumstances of that birth? Jesus was born in a stable because Mary and Joseph were denied shelter at the inn. And his life was spent advocating for the poorest among us. Teaching us the parable of the Good Samaritan. Reminding us that we are our brother’s keeper. If you do consider yourself a Christian, how do your attitudes about these people in our state and seeking our help, align with your thoughts, comments, and actions here and now? The often chided question “What would Jesus do?” (WWJD?) seems to have real meaning at this time in our community. Wishing all Peace on Earth, and good will to men.

  7. Let’s please refrain from all of this heated rhetoric and name-calling. As usual, people want to turn every immigration discussion into “feel good” versus “heartless”. The issue boils down to finances and practicality. All of our ancestors were immigrants at one point. Even the original humans who first arrived in North America thousands of years ago were “immigrants”. The practical question is one of affordability and infrastructure. Our state already HAS a housing crisis. Can we afford to take on an endless flow of immigrants with little to no border control? Our nation is already bankrupt and spending far beyond our means. Hopkinton just passed yet another tax override to fund the new Elmwood School. That is okay by me, because our community is growing. But new schools cost money. Are Hopkinton voters ready to pass another tax override to support the financial needs of a huge influx of immigrants? Can we afford it? Can Massachusetts afford it? In case you haven’t noticed, Massachusetts already has one of the highest tax burdens in the nation. Regardless of one’s politics, we cannot afford to house and feed the entire world. We need a sane immigration policy that includes appropriate vetting of immigrants and controlled borders. Our country desperately NEEDS immigrants. Our workforce is aging rapidly. But we need a sane, organized immigration policy. We don’t have one.

    And Massachusetts being the ONLY state in the country that “guarantees” free housing and other benefits to whoever shows up is financially irresponsible. Our state’s increasing tax burden has created a different kind of immigration crisis. Florida is struggling with the huge influx of people who are fleeing high tax states. New Hampshire is also experiencing an influx of MA residents who are fed up with our taxes. So, for those of you who paint any person criticizing our immigration policy (or lack thereof) as being “heartless and cruel”, you had better be ready to pay up for the inevitable tax increases that are sure to come.

  8. A great reason to keep hotels out of Hopkinton! Most of these people coming here don’t want to be American. They want to turn America into the rat nest country they came from. I feel for the families coming here for a better life, but do it legally.

  9. These people for the most part are NOT REFUGEES. They are illegal immigrants looking to cash in on all the free benefits that our government advertises in the hopes they will all vote blue.

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