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Cape Codders step up to help migrants sheltered in motels

Sen. Julian Cyr said the organizations are hoping to provide food for the migrant families. This file image is from Cape Cod Council of Churches, which may receive donations for the families.
 Cape Cod Council of Churches
Sen. Julian Cyr said the organizations are hoping to provide food for the migrant families. This file image is from Cape Cod Council of Churches, which may receive donations.

Cape Codders are beginning to organize to help migrants placed in emergency shelters on the Cape.

Nonprofits, clergy, and others met Thursday on a video call hosted by state Sen. Julian Cyr.

In a phone interview afterward, he said one thing the organizations are talking about providing is breakfast, because the state’s contracts with motels only cover lunch and dinner.

“We discussed how we can harness some food resources and nutritional resources through the WIC program and through our family pantries,” he said.

“WIC” is the common name for a federal food program called the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children.

Participants on the call also discussed how to coordinate donations to the Cape Cod Council of Churches, Cyr said. They are still working to designate centralized points to accept donations and volunteers.

The state has placed families at Joint Base Cape Cod and motels in Bourne and Yarmouth. Six families were initially sent to Eastham, but Cyr said they were relocated after 10 days because the area was deemed too distant from necessary services.

The families are receiving shelter as part of the state’s Emergency Assistance program, which is open to homeless families — migrant or not — if they have children and meet other criteria.

Cyr said 800 new families have sought shelter in the last month.

“There's a tremendous strain on the state,” he said. “The governor and her team are trying to do the best they can. And what we're trying to do here on Cape Cod is to make sure that we're assisting in those efforts.”

At traditional shelters, state employees help families search for permanent housing. But that may not happen at hotels and motels.

Kevin Connor, press secretary in the Healey administration’s Executive Office of Housing and Livable Communities, said the state doesn’t have enough staff to provide housing placement help at all of the hotels and motels used as overflow shelters.

Meanwhile, the number of migrants seeking shelter in Massachusetts is growing.

Connor said about 6,400 families are living in emergency shelters — more than double the number a year ago. That figure includes both migrants and U.S. citizens, though the administration says many are recent migrants.

Of those in shelter, more than 1,800 families were staying in hotels or motels as of August, the Healey administration said.

Cyr said using lodging as overflow shelters for the homeless isn’t new, but it is increasing.

“Although families being housed in motels is new to Cape Cod in recent weeks, this is not new across Massachusetts,” he said. “Eighty communities, to date, have families in the emergency shelter program that's relying on hotels and motels. And we're really seeing a significant influx.”

Local organizations are reviving some of the avenues of cooperation they created when migrants from Venezuela were flown to Martha’s Vineyard at the direction of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, he said.

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.