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Poll: Massachusetts residents support right-to-shelter law, though its future is murky

Massachusetts Gov. Maura Healey speaking to the Massachusetts Municipal Association in January 2023.
State House News Service
Massachusetts Gov. Maura Healey speaking to the Massachusetts Municipal Association in January 2023.

Massachusetts residents are generally in favor of the state's right-to-shelter law, according to a new poll released by the University of Massachusetts Amherst and WCVB.

The law, which took effect in 1983, promises emergency housing assistance to families with children, as well as pregnant women.

The poll results were taken from a sample of 700 respondents. 41% responded that they “strongly support” the right to shelter law, while 22% responded they “somewhat support” it.

“Nearly two thirds of those we polled indicated strong or somewhat support for the right to shelter law, which is a pretty strong majority,” said Jesse Rhodes, a political science professor at UMass and a co-director of the poll. “And that majority [is] holding up well in the face of increasing pressure on the right-to-shelter law, given the increase in migration from other states and also from other nations, and the increasing strain on that system.”

Critics of the law say that Massachusetts is unequipped to support current demands for shelter, and some lawmakers have called for the state to reconsider the policy.

Gov. Maura Healy has announced emergency housing may no longer be available to new applicants as soon as next week. She claims the system will soon reach capacity.

Healy said last week that approximately half of the 23,000 people currently in the state shelter system are new immigrants.

The poll results also showed mixed feelings about Healy's response to migrants and asylum-seekers, with 38% saying Healey has handled the issue "very well" or "somewhat well" and 41% saying "not too well" or "not well at all."

“My read is that Massachusetts residents are caught between their kind of progressive principles and their commitment to human rights and human decency, on one hand, and recognition of the cost that the state is bearing,” Rhodes said.

“I would be really surprised if it was really feasible to move away on a permanent basis or in a radical way, from the right-to-shelter law, because I do think that that reflects commitments that Massachusetts residents hold pretty deeply," he said. "But that said, clearly steps have to be taken to try to address the issues that are going on in the state.”

This report includes information from State House News Service.