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Old prison to be used as temporary shelter for migrant families in Massachusetts

Prison in Norfolk to be used as temporary migrant shelter
Prison in Norfolk to be used as temporary migrant shelter 02:27

NORFOLK - A former prison in Norfolk will be used as a temporary shelter for homeless families in Massachusetts, including migrants who have been sleeping at Boston's Logan Airport.

The Bay State Correctional Center was decommissioned in 2015, but Emergency Assistance Director Scott Rice says it's still "in good condition." The former minimum security prison can house about 140 families or up to 450 people total with dorm rooms, a cafeteria, and gym. 

The gymnasium inside the former Bay State Correctional Center. Executive Office of Housing and Livable Communities

"The site will be set up with play areas for children, as well as classroom spaces for adults to engage in activities that support pathways to stability such as ESOL classes, job training courses, and housing search workshops," Rice said in a statement.

Razor wire on the fence surrounding the site will be taken down, and the gate will stay open so families can come and go as needed. 

Norfolk sees "many logistical challenges" with shelter

The town of Norfolk said in a statement that it found out about the temporary shelter Friday and received a briefing from Lt. Gov. Kim Driscoll on Saturday. The shelter is expected to operate for six to 12 months, the town said.

"The Town had no role in this decision and was not consulted prior," town officials said in a statement.

The town administrator will meet with the police and fire chiefs as well as school leaders to talk about the "many logistical challenges" resulting from the influx of families in the community. 

"We were taken back a little bit," said Jim Lehan, a member of the Norfolk Select Board. "When you have no knowledge of it, and you start getting phone calls about something you have no idea what they are calling about. That was a little tough."

Lehan has been on the Board of Selectmen in Norfolk for years. He says his phone has been ringing off the hook with questions from residents, many of which he doesn't have answers to.  

"All we know is we have got people coming here and we have got issues that are related to it, and we are going to have to work our way through it," Lehan said.

With no sidewalks and the facility two miles from town, there are concerns over safety and the impact on schools.  

"Any influx, a large number influx into that elementary school is going to be a significant issue to us. We just don't have the space," Lehan said.  

Shelter waitlist in Massachusetts

The Massachusetts emergency shelter system hit a capacity of 7,500 families in November. The state has been setting up overflow "safety-net" sites for migrant and homeless families. Many of the families coming to the new Norfolk shelter were on the waitlist and staying at the airport overnight.

When the state recently announced a new temporary shelter site at the Old Chelsea Soldiers Home, it also said families would have to follow new requirements in order to stay in the system. Those steps include applying for work authorization, participating in workforce training, applying for jobs, taking English classes and searching for housing. 

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