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Poll: Support still strong for Massachusetts emergency shelter system

Cots set up in the Melnea Cass Recreational Complex for the homeless migrants staying at Logan Airport.
Jesse Costa
Cots set up in the Melnea Cass Recreational Complex for the homeless migrants staying at Logan Airport.

A new poll reports Massachusetts residents continue to support the state's "right to shelter" law, despite high costs to fund the state's shelter system. The survey conducted by the University of Massachusetts Amherst and WCVB shows only a slight dip in those who are in favor from October 2023 to last month.

The state’s emergency shelter system has been flooded due to an influx of migrants. Gov. Maura Healey in April signed into law legislation which allocated up to $426 million to cover the costs while limiting the length of time people can stay in the emergency housing.

"Six in 10 residents still support the right to shelter law, which I think in a lot of ways reflects at least the progressive inclinations of the state as it pertains to the issue of immigration,” said Tatishe Nteta, provost professor of political science at UMass Amherst and director of the poll.

Nteta said support remains strong despite the hefty price tag. Beyond the recent legislation, the state has allocated more than $800 million so far during this fiscal year.

As far as who to blame for the influx of migrants into the state, the poll found respondents were pointing the finger at Washington and not at state leaders. More than half say either President Joe Biden or Congressional Republicans are responsible.

Campus protests not popular with those polled

The wide-ranging survey also took a look at opinions about the recent protests on college campuses surrounding the war between Israel and Hamas with 32% supporting the demonstrations and 35% opposing them. And 32% of those polled said they had no opinion.

Nteta said the lack of support is not a surprise. He said most social movements begin without a great deal of support and that the fact they are taking place is a sign of “a lack of connection with the broader public.”

"These results are not necessarily shocking to anyone who has an understanding of public opinion regarding any social movement in the United States over history," he said.

The poll found less support for the protestors’ demands, including divestment from companies doing business with Israel and ending study abroad programs with Israeli universities.

Struggles for home buyers and renters also reflected

The housing crisis in Massachusetts remains the top issue on the minds of residents who participated in the survey.

"A plurality of those who were looking to buy a new home, about 40% indicated that they couldn't find anything in their budget and about 60% of those who are looking to rent were having difficulty finding anything that was affordable for them," Nteta said.

Healey and House Speaker Ron Mariano have both filed legislation to help the state cope with the housing shortage. But few of those polled were holding either elected officials responsible for the situation. Instead, 30% cited high interest rates as the culprit.

The UMass Amherst/WCVB poll had 700 respondents and was conducted between May 17-30.

Adam joined NEPM as a freelance reporter and fill-in operations assistant during the summer of 2011. For more than 15 years, Adam has had a number stops throughout his broadcast career, including as a news reporter and anchor, sports host and play-by-play announcer as well as a producer and technician.