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‘We Feel Overwhelmed’: Allston Struggles to Support Migrant Families Amid Record Influx

Massachusetts launched a family welcome center in the Brazilian Worker Center in Allston.
Massachusetts launched a family welcome center in the Brazilian Worker Center in Allston. By Sami E. Turner
By Jack R. Trapanick and Sami E. Turner, Crimson Staff Writers

As the Massachusetts shelter system strains to accommodate record numbers of arriving families, Allston expanded services in June with the opening of a new family welcome center — though the neighborhood continues to struggle to meet the needs of all.

In June, the Brazilian Worker Center in Allston became the first family welcome center created by the state as a spike in the number of arriving families overwhelmed the Massachusetts shelter system. The center aims to “provide support to newly arrived immigrants in the United States,” according to its website.

“The administration is opening a ‘Family Welcome Center’ in Allston to serve as a central entry point for families, especially migrant families, struggling to access basic necessities, connecting them with essential supplies, services, and transportation to a safe place to stay,” the state announced in a press release.

Lorrayne Reiter, the immigrant defense project coordinator at the Brazilian Worker Center, said that the first few weeks of the opening of the Allston family welcome center saw 30 to 40 families arrive per day, “which was a lot.”

A little over a month after the opening of the Allston family welcome center, the state opened up a second family welcome center in Quincy, alleviating pressure on the Allston facility.

“Right now, with another family welcome center, there’s not a surge as it was before,” Reiter said. “Right now, we’ve been seeing like 12 to 15 families per day, which is a good amount.”

On Aug. 8, the administration of Massachusetts Governor Maura T. Healey ’92 announced a state of emergency because of the surge in immigration and called for more support from the federal government. Healey called for “streamlining the work authorization process and passing comprehensive immigration reform,” according to the administration’s press release.

As a part of Healey’s state of emergency, her administration mobilized 250 National Guard members to assist with staffing temporary shelters across the state. In the press release, Healey and Lieutenant Governor Kimberly L. Driscoll attributed the crisis to a lack of housing and monthslong delays in worker permits.

“We know what it will take to truly address the root causes of this emergency — rapidly increasing housing production across the state and implementing comprehensive immigration reform at the federal level, including work authorizations,” Driscoll said in the press release.

According to a Healey administration briefing obtained by The Crimson, the number of families staying in the statewide shelter system is slated to nearly double by next month compared to the beginning of the year — from 3,800 in January to 7,500 by October.

“We feel overwhelmed,” said Heloisa M. Galvão, the executive director of the Brazilian Women’s Group in Allston, which provides migrant services like citizenship classes and legal assistance.

Boston’s high concentration of nonprofits and city-provided resources for migrants tends to attract new arrivals to the area, who then must face the tremendous cost of rent in one of the most expensive cities in the country.

“They just put as many mattresses as they can in a bedroom and that’s how they’re living,” said Carolline P. De Paula, director of education at the Jackson Mann Community Center in Allston. “We have the whole family living in one bedroom, because that’s what they can afford, being in Boston.”

Galvão recounted how one family this summer called the Brazilian Women’s Group on Tuesday saying they hadn’t eaten since Saturday.

Another mother came to the Brazilian Women’s Group in distress because bug infestations in her housing were keeping her children up at night, she said.

“Her kids were literally being eaten up by bedbugs and cockroaches,” Galvão said.

Some relief has come from a Massachusetts law that went into effect this summer allowing undocumented immigrants to apply for a standard driver’s license.

Former Massachusetts Transportation Secretary Gina Fiandaca said in the June press release announcing the policy change that all residents, regardless of immigration status, will now be able to apply for a license and “legally drive to get to work, school, the doctor’s office, and to see family and friends. ”

De Paula said that she thinks that “with a driver’s license being accessible” that overcrowding “might change a little bit” — because the change allows migrants working in Boston to commute from elsewhere, rather than having to contend with the city’s housing prices.

Despite challenges, local migrant service providers said recent efforts by the state have helped alleviate some of the pressure.

“Since the beginning of the opening we have been seeing more than 1,200 families,” Reiter said. “We could not do that if it weren’t for the partnership with the state.”

“I think what has been happening is great,” De Paula said. “And I think Healey has been giving more attention to this and being more vocal and people are mobilizing more, because we do need to speed this up.”

—Staff writer Jack R. Trapanick can be reached at jack.trapanick@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @jackrtrapanick.

—Staff writer Sami E. Turner can be reached at sami.turner@thecrimson.com. Follow her on X @samiturner_ or on Threads @samiturner_.

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