BOSTON - Local legislators are brainstorming what to do about the state’s shelter crisis, and while there doesn’t seem to be a perfect answer, they say something needs to be done as the waitlist grows and winter weather ramps up.

What You Need To Know

  • The federal government was not able to pass any legislation that would provide Massachusetts with any funding to help with the migrant crisis

  • It's because of this that the state's "Right to Shelter" law has been back in conversation as a way to try and help a system that is costing the state massive amounts of money

  • Several legislators want to change the law to limit migrant families coming into the state, and give priority to homeless families who are Massachusetts residents

  • Opponents say that the law isn't the problem, but factors that lead to homelessness and the state's long-neglected shelter system

The emergency shelter waitlist for families looking for temporary housing has climbed to 739. Overflow sites are quickly filling up and migrant families are still coming to Massachusetts looking for asylum. 

The state isn’t getting any financial help from the federal government, and the bill is getting higher by the day.

"I don't think help is on the way," said state Sen. John Velis, D-Hampden & Hampshire. "So I think Massachusetts, like all the other states, are going to continue to have to fend for themselves, and we just don't have the ability to do that. So we have to make some very difficult decisions in the not too distant future."

Velis is among the many lawmakers proposing the state amend its "Right to Shelter" law. It was implemented in 1983 and promises temporary shelter for anyone who needs it.

"You know, no one certainly, no one predicted the immigration crisis that we have in America," Velis said. "Times have changed and now we don't have the federal government's help. So I don't think it's a question of keeping or repealing 'Right to Shelter,' but I think it's absolutely a question of modifying 'Right to Shelter' to account for the new reality that's out there."

Republican state Senators Peter Durant and Ryan Fattman have each said they believe the state should change the law. They’ve suggested prioritizing Massachusetts residents for shelter when they fall on tough times.

Velis said it’s clear the state doesn’t have the space to continue to house families coming in, and while a modification what the law looks like isn’t clear, he said it needs to be debated openly.

Sen. Robyn Kennedy, D-Worcester, is adamantly against changing a law that prevents children from sleeping on the streets, but thinks it's attention to the broken shelter system that would make an immediate impact. 

“Eliminating or changing the state's 'Right to Shelter' law is not going to stop families from being homeless in the Commonwealth, and it’s not going to stop families from coming to the Commonwealth," Kennedy said. 

Legislators know something needs to give, and a lot of what they are tasked with is finding both a humane and fiscally responsible solution.