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Despite the state’s efforts, Logan Airport continues to be a front line in the migrant crisis

Guivensly Joseph, 14, rested on his family’s makeshift bed after arriving at Logan International Airport, where the family would stay the night.Erin Clark/Globe Staff

The migrant crisis continues to buffet the state, with scores of newcomers, including dozens of small children, sleeping on the floor of Boston’s Logan International Airport, months after Governor Maura Healey’s administration made moves to prevent such heart-wrenching scenes from unfolding.

On a recent night, it was deja vu at Terminal E, as people sprawled out to grab some shut-eye while travelers whisked by with their luggage, en route to Dublin or Doha, Istanbul or Zurich. It was a similar scene in late January, when the state, scrambling to find places to house migrants given the maxed-out shelter system in Massachusetts, took over the Melnea A. Cass Recreational Complex in Roxbury, converting it to a temporary shelter space, among other initiatives.

Now, with migrants set to move out of the Cass center by the end of the month, the crisis continues unabated, with Logan once again acting as the local front line of the humanitarian catastrophe.

“I heard they take care of people who don’t have anyone here,” Alex St. Louis, 29, said through an interpreter. St. Louis had been in town for one day. He said gangs took over his neighborhood in Haiti, making it unlivable. He said when he moved to a different town, the same thing happened, which is when he decided to flee the country. He spread out bedding for himself, his partner, Alexis Elianise, and their 1-year-old son, Arhav Judhensky, on the floor of Terminal E on Thursday evening. His first objective, he said, is to find a better place to sleep for his family.

Migrants slept on the floor at International Terminal E on Wednesday night at Logan International Airport.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

“I am not afraid, I am not nervous or anything,” said St. Louis, who worked as a handyman and in a factory back home. “Here it’s much better. Where I came from, I was running for my life. There cannot be anything worse than that.”


In late January, about 80 people were sleeping at the airport, and this week, it was more of the same.

More than 120 people were staying at the airport Thursday evening, including more than 25 small children. Some spoke of those left behind. Silence Marie Angeline Gressier, 42, traveled with her 2-year-old daughter through 11 countries before coming to Boston, where she arrived on Monday. Her focus remains on finding better shelter for her toddler and getting her other children here. Her 19-year-old daughter was sexually assaulted back in Haiti, she said.

“We’d like to bring her along with her brother,” she said.

Guetty Carries, 43, has two of her children with her at the airport. Two more are in Mexico, she said.

“I have no one,” she said through an interpreter. “I heard things about Boston; they said this is where they help people like me.”

The airport, where she has been sleeping since May 17, is not good for her migraines. She would like to find someplace else to stay.

Still, she said, “Haiti is worse.”

Behind her, two of her sons, Roobensky Joseph, 11, and Guivensly Joseph, 14, used their fingers to pull peanut butter out of a jar and smear it on some bread.

Jomaillie Jeanbaptiste (left) rested on her family’s air mattress with her brother Fawendy Jeanbaptiste after arriving at Logan International Airport.Erin Clark/Globe Staff

For decades, homeless families have been guaranteed a roof over their heads under a 1980s-era law in Massachusetts, the only state in the country with a so-called right-to-shelter requirement.

But a current statute makes the mandate “subject to appropriation,” meaning the state is required to follow it only as long as it has enough money. And with ballooning costs, Massachusetts officials have asserted that they can no longer guarantee shelter past 7,500 families. Complicating things further, the region is in the midst of a housing crisis. The median sales price for a single-family home in Greater Boston reached a record $950,000 last month.


As real estate prices rocket, the total tally of migrant families in the emergency shelter system in Massachusetts tops 3,700, according to the most recent state data, which is from May 16. More than 500 families applied for shelter during the previous two-week period. More than 330 families are in overflow shelter sites, while 118 exited the emergency shelter system during the previous two weeks. More than 770 families are on an emergency shelter waitlist for shelter; 162 of them have been placed on the list in the last 14 days.

“Governor Healey has been clear that this is a federal problem that requires a federal solution from Congress, including stronger border security and more funding for states,” Karissa Hand, a spokesperson for Healey, said in a statement this week. “Massachusetts has gone above and beyond to address this challenge — helping thousands of immigrants apply for work authorizations, placing hundreds in jobs, setting a capacity limit and time limits on shelter stays — but we long ago reached our limit and it is way past time for Congress to step up.”


To control costs, the state enacted a law in April to limit most families’ stays in the emergency shelter system to nine months. Under regulations the Healey administration wrote, which makes the limit retroactive to Jan. 1, some migrants may be getting kicked out of their temporary shelters as early as September, the State House News Service reported Friday.

Meanwhile, in keeping with a pledge that Healey made to Roxbury stakeholders months ago, state authorities will move migrants out of the Melnea A. Cass Recreational Complex by the end of the month. Dozens of migrants who were sleeping at Logan Airport started to move into the facility in late January.

Silence Marie Angeline Gressier wrangled her 2-year-old daughter, Mariana Clara Silence, after arriving at Logan.Erin Clark/Globe Staff

In recent days, Kevin Connor, spokesperson for the state’s Executive Office of Housing and Livable Communities, said the center is on track to wind down as an overflow shelter for families on the state’s emergency waitlist before June 1. At that time, families who have not been rehoused or transitioned to shelters will be transferred to another safety-net site, according to Connor, such as a new site in Chelsea. Connor said there are about 70 people currently staying at the Cass.

Additionally, the state recently announced a safety-net shelter site at the former Bay State Correctional Center in Norfolk, which the Healey administration expects to be operational next month with the capacity to serve about 140 families currently on the emergency shelter waitlist. (About half of those on the waitlist are newly arrived immigrants.)


“The state will work closely with school districts and families to ensure continuity of education. Per federal law, families will have the choice between staying in their current district or enrolling in their new district,” Connor said in an email.

All told, 15 families staying at the Cass since January have found “alternative housing,” according to Connor, while 51 moved into emergency shelters. The maximum capacity of the center, Connor said, was 350 people.

The proposal to open a shelter at the Cass center received pushback from some residents who said that Roxbury is already burdened with its own set of problems due in large part to decades of disinvestment and systemic racism. Roxbury is one of Boston’s most diverse neighborhoods; about 85 percent of its 53,000 residents are people of color. The neighborhood’s median household income is about $38,000, well under the citywide median income of $81,000.

From the get-go, Healey framed the Cass solution to the ongoing migrant crisis in Massachusetts as a temporary one. This week, Connor said the state is following through on that commitment. Healey said the facility will be reopened to the public by June. She also pledged to upgrade the state-run complex, and more details about the renovations have emerged in recent weeks.

The planned improvements are various: Solar panels installed on the roof. New shade trees near the entrance. An operational Wi-Fi network. A new sound system and new athletic equipment. Spray deck improvements. Lobby upgrades. A new athletic floor is slated for the indoor track arena, which is scheduled to reopen on Labor Day.

The complex’s public swimming pool will open June 22, according to state authorities.

A woman and child walked toward the airport restrooms in the early morning at Logan International Airport.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

Danny McDonald can be reached at daniel.mcdonald@globe.com. Follow him @Danny__McDonald.