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Taunton mayor fines migrant hotel $1,000 per day for overcapacity amid shelter crisis

By Kate Wilkinson,

2023-09-15

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TAUNTON, Mass. (WPRI) — Taunton Mayor Shaunna O’Connell is fining the Clarion Hotel for being over capacity with migrants at the same time the state is grappling with a lack of shelter as demand grows.

O’Connell told Target 12 there are roughly 450 people staying at the hotel , but the certificate of occupancy only allows for 360. And because the hotel’s leaders have not provided documentation to show they can handle more people, the city has been fining the facility $1,000 each day.

“We want to make sure everyone there is safe — that police and fire have the ability to respond to emergencies in a safe manner,” O’Connell said.

A migrant staying at the hotel, who asked not to be identified, told Target 12 that people are living in tight quarters, as the state scrambles to accommodate an increase in need for emergency shelter.

State officials said more than 80 Massachusetts communities have hotels which have now been converted into emergency shelters. O’Connell said she received little notice from the state when the migrants arrived in April.

READ: Southeastern Mass. communities struggling to keep up with growing migrant crisis

“[I] got a quick phone call that people would be arriving that day,” she said. “We were really not involved in the negotiations or conversations about the hotel being closed down and becoming a shelter.”

Over the last few months, O’Connell said Taunton has faced challenges since its only hotel turned into a shelter. For example, there are 60 children that enrolled in the city school system, which has required unique resources.

“There’s a language barrier, there’s different needs, there’s busing,” O’Connell said.

She said the state also had to pay for the city to provide a police detail to respond to 911 calls that have increased at the hotel since the migrants moved in. Many of those calls, O’Connell said, are due to the fact that several pregnant women are staying at the hotel.

The Massachusetts Executive Office of Housing and Livable Communities currently houses more than 20,000 people in emergency shelters across the state. A third of the people are newly arrived in Massachusetts.

Many of them come from countries including Haiti, and are fleeing violence and political unrest, according to national reports.

Massachusetts Gov. Maura Healey said while the increase in migrants is a problem that’s not just happening in Massachusetts, the Bay State is the only one in the country that has a “right-to-shelter law.”

“This is the law in Massachusetts,” Healey said during a visit to North Attleboro this week. “When folks come here, we are required under law to find them shelter as we are required to find shelter for any family experiencing homelessness or home insecurity.”

The 1983 law aims to offer housing to families and pregnant people, but O’Connell said she feels the statute should be revised.

“We’ve got thousands of people coming into our state and there’s nowhere to go,” she said.

Healey has acknowledged that the state does not have enough health and human service providers to help the migrants, and she declared a state of emergency last month seeking help from the federal government.

READ: Healey activates Massachusetts National Guard to help with migrant crisis

Healey called on President Joe Biden to fast track work-authorization forms so that the new migrants could start working. The governor has also brought in the Massachusetts National Guard to assist the nearly 2,600 families living in hotels and motels across the state.

Meantime, some residents are making their own efforts to help migrants, including in Plainville, where two hotels have been converted into emergency shelters. On Wednesday, donations filled a town office, including food, clothing and toys for children.

“A lot of these families don’t have anything,” organizer Jennifer Plante said. “It’s really incredible when you have to say, ‘We need another dozen tables to hold all these donations.’”

Kate Wilkinson ( kwilkinson@wpri.com ) is a Target 12 investigative reporter for 12 News. Connect with her on Twitter and Facebook .

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