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Massachusetts officials looking at how to address crush of need on state's shelter system

A map shows the geographic distribution of migrants and homeless families staying in emergency assistance shelters throughout Massachusetts as of Friday, Oct. 6, 2023.
Executive Office of Housing and Livable Communities
A map shows the geographic distribution of migrants and homeless families staying in emergency assistance shelters throughout Massachusetts as of Friday, Oct. 6, 2023.

The feds visited, but will they help?

Concerns are growing over the close to 23,000 people in Massachusetts' emergency shelter system.

“Unless we get help, we're going to have some difficult decisions,” State House Speaker Ron Mariano said.

Chris Lisinski of the State House News Service has the latest on the shelter crisis:

Chris Lisinksi, SHNS: The crisis continues to strain the system really to a level that it's never been strained before. Last week we were up to something like 6,900 families in emergency shelters here in Massachusetts, which is already an enormous increase over the previous record levels from just a month ago or so.

Federal officials were here on the ground last week getting a first-hand look at a family welcome center and some of the shelters the state is using. But other than that, we don't really know what the federal response is going to be. President Biden has proposed something like $4 billion to make some funding available for cities and states to help shoulder this burden, but there's no clear indication of if or when that will come.

And it seems like state officials are still just waiting and keeping the pressure on Washington to help them with this unprecedented situation.

Carrie Healy, NEPM: Speaking of shelter and housing, local officials from Amherst and other communities across the state are urging lawmakers to grant them the ability to charge extra fees on real estate transactions. Are the Legislature and the governor likely to grant that approval?

So far, we haven't had any indication that there's real momentum behind this from lawmakers and Gov. Healey. The governor was noncommittal in either direction on the campaign trail when she was asked about the idea of local real estate transfer taxes.

We're expecting some kind of significant housing proposal to emerge from the administration soon. There's always a chance that this could feature in there. But, you know, this has been around the block several sessions in a row, and it's never really won any support from top Democrats in the Legislature. So I would say it looks like it still has a long way to go.
Today marks the tenth day of the war between Israel and Hamas. Massachusetts has the third highest percentage of Jewish residents in the United States, behind new Jersey and New York, according to the Jewish Virtual Library. Chris, what are state lawmakers saying about this moment?

The response from Beacon Hill has largely been a lot of vocal support for Israel, and calls on the U.S. federal government to stand behind Israel and condemnation of the attacks. There's also been a lot of focus pointed on rise in anti-Semitism here in Massachusetts and the United States.

You know, we have seen hate crimes on the rise in recent years, particularly anti-Semitic incidents on the rise and even the geopolitical tensions, are pointing lawmakers back toward the impacts here at home.

Last week, a gun bill received a public hearing in the Massachusetts House. And in your reporting, Chris, you noted the leader of one gun owner group criticized lawmakers for giving people just one business day to review the entire bill before the hearing. What moments in the more than six hours of testimony stood out to you?

I'll mention a couple, one from either end. On multiple occasions, gun owners who oppose this bill trekked all the way to beacon Hill, or Zoomed into the virtual hearing to tell lawmakers not just that they oppose this legislation, but that if it becomes law, they simply will not comply. They made it very clear upfront. They just won't follow this law should it come into action, which is a really striking, defiant tone that you don't often see with legislation.

And coming from the other end, it still sticks in my mind, we heard time and time again firsthand testimony from victims of gun violence. I will never forget Jodi Marchand, a Westford woman who told lawmakers all about how her former husband killed her daughter and shot her with a firearm that she had bought him as a Christmas gift. It's the kind of harrowing detail that's really hard to forget.

What is next for that bill?

We're expecting it to pop any day now. In the House, Speaker Ron Mariano has signaled he wants a vote on that by the end of October. And then it'll be over to the Senate, where Democrats are working on their own gun bill still behind closed doors. And we don't really know much about what's going on with that effort.

Carrie Healy hosts the local broadcast of "Morning Edition" at NEPM. She also hosts the station’s weekly government and politics segment “Beacon Hill In 5” for broadcast radio and podcast syndication.
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