Saugus gets update on migrant crisis

SAUGUS — Roughly 400 to 500 migrants are living in hotels and motels within town limits, Public Health Director John Fralick told the Board of Health Monday, deeming the figure a conservative estimate.

Fralick said the migrants are primarily coming from Central America and are being housed at the Red Roof Inn, Holiday Inn, Avalon Motel, and James Motel. The Red Roof Inn alone is housing 200-250, he said.

The ongoing influx of migrants arriving in Massachusetts has strained the state’s emergency-shelter system, leading to Gov. Maura Healey declaring a state of emergency and activating the National Guard to aid communities dealing with the sudden surge. Under the state’s 1983 Right to Shelter law, the only of its kind in the nation, Massachusetts is required to provide “temporary shelter as necessary to alleviate homelessness when such family has no feasible alternative housing available.”

Fralick said the town does not have a handle on the exact number of migrants living within its bounds and is having to adapt on the fly as the situation evolves.

“We’re trying to keep up with it as best we can with the resources that we have,” he said.

As the state continues to triage arriving families, Fralick said much of the public-health concern has been centered on the vaccination status of arrivals, adding that Mass General Brigham’s policy has been to “essentially vaccinate them again… because they haven’t gotten the proper care.”

And, on Sept. 26, the Cataldo Ambulances mobile vaccination unit is going to be deployed to the Red Roof Inn to conduct triage there, he said. The National Guard had been deployed there last week, and the town now has a designated point of contact for guards there. Two uniformed guards will be working five- to six-hour shifts at the inn, Fralick said.

But, officials are still pressing the state to see if more help might be on the way.

“We are kind of on our own outside of the mobile vaccination unit that has been deployed,” Fralick said. “It’s obviously a rapidly evolving, very fluid situation that we’re trying to just keep our finger on the pulse of.”

With an additional 1,500 families expected to arrive in the state by the end of next month, town officials are facing a situation with “no real exit strategy at this point.”

“We’re just trying to be as prepared as we possibly can, and try to accommodate as best we can,” Fralick said. “We’re really kind of stuck between a rock and a hard place.”

And, Fralick said, because of the McKinney-Vento Act, many migrant children are entering the town’s public-school system while their vaccination status is still in flux — though citing Mass General Brigham, he said the “overwhelming majority” have been vaccinated.

“The initial screenings that are taking place, unfortunately, are being done as these kids sit in school,” he said.

Fralick’s comments echo those of Town Manager Scott Crabtree, who told the Board of Selectmen earlier this month that the statewide surge has begun to strain town resources.

Both Crabtree and Fralick indicated sympathy for the human side of the influx.

Crabtree, during the Board of Selectmen meeting, noted 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.”

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