Internet InfoMedia democratic town furious over migrant shelter opening in neighborhood

Residents in a New England town are fuming that they have not been consulted on plans to convert a former state prison into a tax-payer-funded migrant shelter for hundreds of people. 

The state is refurbishing Norfolk, Massachusetts’ Bay State Correctional Center, a former minimum-security dorm-like facility, to accommodate migrants and homeless individuals who are currently holed up at Boston’s Logan International Airport and are on the waitlist for an emergency shelter program. The facility is located on the grounds of Massachusetts Correctional Institution (MCI), a medium-security prison. 

Norfolk has a population of about 11,500 and voted heavily in favor of President Joe Biden in 2020. 

The governor’s office tells Fox News Digital it expects the shelter to be operational next month as a “temporary safety-net site for families experiencing homelessness.” Families who will stay at the site will be subject to the 30-day engagement requirements and a monthly recertification process to demonstrate they are taking action toward getting work permits, jobs and housing.

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Bay State Correctional Center aerial shot

Residents and local officials expressed frustration over the sudden news that the state is opening an emergency shelter for migrant families at the former Bay State Correctional Center, pictured. (Google Earth)

But at a tense special Select Board meeting on Wednesday, about 300 residents gathered to raise alarm over the new facility opening in their town and blasted the state for keeping them in the dark about it.

Residents said they want answers about the impact on schools, police and emergency services, pointing out that municipal budgets are already stretched thin.

“Let’s face it, we don’t want it here. We don’t,” resident John Semas said, according to GBH.

“And, it doesn’t make us bad people, it doesn’t make me not compassionate, it doesn’t make me a bad father.” Semas was among a small group of people donning shirts and placards that read “Save Norfolk: No Shelter,” the publication reports.  

He blasted Gov. Maura Healey, a Democrat, who had left for a climate change conference at the Vatican instead of engaging with her electorate. 

Healey last summer declared a state of emergency over the surge of migrants into the state and the Bay State has struggled to get a grip on the crisis. The state has previously said that it is obliged to cater to the migrants because of its 1983 sanctuary city law which was passed to deal with the relatively small number of homeless families and pregnant women, although critics have said the law does not apply to migrants who are not U.S. citizens.

In the 2020 presidential election, 4,100 Norfolk residents voted for President Biden compared to 2,570 who voted for former President Trump. Massachusetts is a deep blue state with its nine Congress members and two senators being Democrats. 

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Photo by Jonathan Wiggs/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Massachusetts Governor Maura Healey was criticized for leaving for a climate change conference at the Vatican instead of engaging with locals.  (Jonathan Wiggs/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

Select Board Chair Jim Lehan said he initially learned about the shelter plans via social media and was angry that the town did not receive prior notice.

“It’s their building [the state’s] and they don’t need our permission to use it, but it would have been nice to partner at the front end to understand what their plans were,” Lehan said, according to GBH.

It is unclear how many migrants will be sent to the facility, which was decommissioned in 2015. 

The state’s emergency assistance director, Scott Rice, says that the facility remains in good condition and has the space to accommodate around 140 families.

In a statement to Fox News Digital, Rice said families there will have access to showers and bathrooms on each floor. The facility also has a cafeteria, a gymnasium, a large common room and offices that will be used for case management and administrative activities. 

Rice added that play areas for children will be set up along with classroom spaces for adults to learn English and get job training. 

The site will be staffed 24/7 by a contracted service provider and families will be provided with transportation on and off site. The razor wire on the fence surrounding the facility will be removed, and the gates will remain open, so families will be free to exit and return as needed, the governor’s office says. 

It is unclear how much the entire operation will cost the taxpayer. 

Healey’s office says that the administration will hold a community meeting prior to its opening in order to answer questions and connect with community members who want to provide sports, arts and music programming for the children in shelters.

The administration says it has already met with local officials including the Norfolk legislative delegation, the Town Administrator, members of the Select Board, as well as the fire and police chiefs. 

Migrants sleeping at Logan Airport

The state is refurbishing the Bay State Correctional Center, a former minimum-security dorm-like facility in the town of Norfolk, to accommodate migrants who are currently holed up at Logan Airport.  (JOSEPH PREZIOSO/AFP via Getty Images)

At Wednesday’s meeting, resident Lauren Vives said the shelter could bring a financial burden to the town, which only has two elementary schools, one ambulance, a small police and fire department and no grocery store.

“The proposition to increase our town’s population by 4% overnight is preposterous,” Vivas said, according to GBH. She said that the plan shows “a lack of respect” for the town.

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Not everyone was against the shelter. Resident Lucy Bullock-Sieger said it was a good idea to help the migrants and said Norfolk is not a town of fear.

“I can’t imagine being the mom of young children and trying to find a better life,” she said, according to GBH.

Fox News Digital reached out to Gov. Healey’s office for comment but did not immediately receive a response. 

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