Saugus beginning to see impacts of statewide migrant influx

SAUGUS — The town is beginning to see the impact of a surge in the number of migrants arriving in Massachusetts, which in turn has started to strain some of the town’s resources.

Town Manager Scott Crabtree told the Board of Selectmen Tuesday that the town’s school district has been particularly strained by the influx.

The confirmation from Crabtree that the statewide issue has reached Saugus comes in the wake of Gov. Maura Healey declaring a state of emergency after the surge put additional pressure on the state’s emergency-shelter system, which places migrants in empty dormitories and hotels across the state. With a bevy of hotels and motels along Route 1, Saugus is beginning to see the results of that strain.

The declaration from Healey comes as 6,242 families live in emergency shelters statewide, with 2,558 in hotels and motels. A Healey spokesperson said emergency-shelter sites are set up in more than 80 communities across the state, but did not respond to a request about any locations in Saugus specifically as of press time.

Massachusetts, under a right-to-shelter law passed in 1983 — the only one of its kind in the nation — is required to provide “temporary shelter as necessary to alleviate homelessness when such (a) family has no feasible alternative housing available.”

In Saugus, the number of migrants living in town is a “fluent, changing number,” Crabtree said.

“We don’t have an exact number… it just keeps changing,” he told the selectmen.

Crabtree said it does not appear as though officials on the local level have any sort of say in whether or not migrants get placed in town or where they are placed in Saugus. He expressed specific concern about the town being able to secure financial aid, particularly because of an apparent request from the state to provide food for those living in town.

“We don’t have a budget for that,” he said. “We’re trying to get a handle on it.”

Families placed in Saugus may have children attending the town’s public schools, and Crabtree said he is working with Acting Superintendent Michael Hashem to figure out what resources may be available to the district. Crabtree cited spiking McKinney-Vento costs as a particularly “troubling” impact because the district would be responsible for providing transportation to and from school for homeless families with children attending schools in town.

While the state does offer reimbursement for those costs, Crabtree said there is often a lag, and the reimbursement does not cover the entire cost incurred by the town.

“That’s going on all over the state, it’s affecting a lot of public school systems financially,” he said. “This is all new… we’ve never really dealt with this in Massachusetts.”

Crabtree also pointed to the “human side” of the issue, noting that many of those arriving in Massachusetts are escaping war-torn countries or oppression. But, he said, communities need more resources and direction from the state on how to handle the issue.

“These people have nothing, they’re coming here with not a thing,” he said. “Just to put this burden on the towns and cities… without a full plan or educating and informing how to handle the impact of it, it doesn’t seem fair for us.”

Board of Selectmen Chair Anthony Cogliano, who brought the issue up for discussion initially, said one of his primary concerns is the consistent sight of people walking along Route 1 with luggage.

“There’s people with children walking up and down the highway carrying their bags, it looks totally out of sorts,” he said.

Crabtree said the Board of Health is working with a case worker assigned by the state on the issue, and the town will continue to coordinate with state officials through the Board of Health on how to provide for the families.

“I don’t know what the right answer is,” he concluded.

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