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Six families placed at Cape Cod motel; migrants exceed state's shelter capacity

Town of Yarmouth

Six families have been placed in a Yarmouth motel as part of the Healey administration’s effort to cope with the rising number of migrant families in need of shelter.

The motel is one of a few locations on Cape Cod hosting migrants.

Yarmouth Town Administrator Bob Whritenour said the state informed the town yesterday that migrants had been sent to the Harborside Suites over the weekend. He said some of the families have young children, three of whom are of school age.

“According to the governor's office, the families are of Haitian descent, and additional families may be coming as well,” he said.

Whritenour said the state indicated that the motel has the capacity to provide 23 rooms.

Kevin Connor, a spokesman for the Executive Office of Housing and Liveable Communities, said the state is coordinating support for the migrants, including food. He said more than 80 cities and towns across Massachusetts are hosting families in need.

“We appreciate their compassion and willingness to partner with the Commonwealth in this exceptional and ongoing effort,” he said in an email.

Local clergy said they were just learning of the situation and had not yet planned how to respond.

The town is unsure what support it might be asked to provide, Whritenour said.

“At this point, we have not received any comprehensive listing of what services will be provided by the Commonwealth [and] what services, if any, will be requested from the local government,” he said.

Two weeks ago, after word started circulating that the state might send migrants to Yarmouth, Cape resident Cheryl Ball started an opposition group on Facebook called Cape Cod Concerned Citizens.

She told CAI the group plans to hold a demonstration tonight outside Yarmouth Town Hall before the Select Board meeting.

The Select Board is scheduled to discuss migrant housing and related correspondence to Gov. Maura Healey.

Sheltering families in a motel could violate local zoning if the families stay more than 30 days, the town administrator said.

“It appears that the Commonwealth seems very insistent on a Yarmouth location as part of this program,” he said. “We continue to believe that the proper zoning is not in place to support this use, as there are local bylaws that limit the stay in these motel facilities to no more than 30 days.”

It’s unclear how long the state anticipates sheltering families at the motel.

Connor, the administration spokesman, said he did not know if they would be staying more than 30 days.

He said people in the community looking to help can find more information at mass.gov/sheltercrisis.

Healey declared a state of emergency regarding migration in August and activated the National Guard.

She said migrants need federal work authorization to support themselves and move out of shelters.

Connor reiterated that point yesterday, saying the Healey administration is asking the federal government to speed up work authorization for new arrivals.

Last month, in a letter to Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas, Healey said more than 5,500 families — many, but not all, of whom are migrants and refugees — are living in emergency shelters in Massachusetts, including more than 1,800 families in hotels and motels used for overflow.

“Massachusetts has stepped up to address what sadly has been a federal crisis of inaction that is many years in the making,” she said in the letter. “But we can no longer do this alone. We need federal partnership, federal funding, and urgent federal action.”

In June, Healey announced that Joint Base Cape Cod would house people experiencing homelessness. She said the base could initially host 16 families and could expand to 60.

Jennette Barnes is a reporter and producer. Named a Master Reporter by the New England Society of News Editors, she brings more than 20 years of news experience to CAI.