Two town motels lodge homeless and migrant families

Sep 26, 2023

While many questions remain unanswered, it is now known that the state is using two Wareham motels to shelter migrant families from various countries and homeless families from this area.

Sixteen families were moved into the Atlantic Motel on Depot Street beginning Saturday, Sept. 16. And an unknown number of families, primarily Haitian nationals seeking asylum in the United States, have been living in the Mariner’s Inn on Cranberry Highway in East Wareham since mid-summer.

Officials are cautious about what information they make public about the situation – out of concern for the sheltered families’ privacy, for fear of provoking political backlash and because, in a fast-changing situation, they cannot themselves answer many of a reporter’s questions.

What is known is that, as Massachusetts grapples with finding shelter for the thousands of migrants statewide, the state’s Executive Office of Housing and Livable Communities is turning to willing lodging facilities all over the commonwealth to provide shelter to the influx. This influx is on top of the estimated 15,500 Massachusetts residents who find themselves without a permanent roof over their heads in a tight housing market.

Select Board members are encouraging residents to not take anger out at the inhabitants, but at the state’s actions.

Select Board Chair Judith Whiteside said they are “human beings.”

She said, “Wareham has a reputation — well-deserved — for taking care of people.”

Town Administrator Derek Sullivan explained that, in Wareham, the state signed a five-year lease with the owner of the Mariner’s Inn. The inn, located within walking distance of the Massachusetts Maritime Academy’s Buzzards Bay campus, had been used in recent years and through the 2022-23 school year as a dormitory for Mass Maritime Academy cadets.

This past summer, a group of mainly migrant families moved into the inn, which is managed by the Executive Office of Housing and Livable Communities.

Chuck McCullough, chair of the Wareham Area Committee for the Homeless, recently visited the inn and described it as completely renovated to better serve the Haitian asylum seekers, with amenities including a buffet-style serving station for meals.

The Mariner’s Inn situation was largely settled before Gov. Maura Healey declared a State of Emergency in August and activated the National Guard to assist with managing shelter locations.

By the time the state rented 24 rooms at the Atlantic Motel, it was the Guard that was tapped to help with logistics.

In contrast to the Mariner’s Inn situation, the Atlantic Motel rental agreement covers only the remainder of 2023 – but could be extended, according to Select Board member Jared Chadwick.

Select Board members shared concerns for safety as the 220 square foot rooms do not have a sprinkler system. If the inhabitants were to try cooking in the rooms, there is a risk of fire.

No officials state or local would comment on the makeup of the population staying at the Atlantic Motel.

In all cases, the people eligible for state-provided lodging under Massachusetts’ “right-to-shelter” law are families – parents with children or pregnant people – rather than individual adults.

The state will be providing the housed families with three meals a day and will also be sending funds to the schools to aid with the resulting addition of students to the district. However, these funds will not be available until the end of the quarter, according to Sullivan.

A majority of the Select Board members have voiced opposition to the unsheltered families staying at the Atlantic Motel.

Although it is unclear if these inhabitants are migrants, Board members were still conflicted with the idea of using these lodging facilities for housing when Wareham has its own homeless population.

The Select Board unanimously voted at its Tuesday, Sept. 26 meeting to send a letter of opposition to the state and federal government.

Hearing of the people being sheltered in motels, some local people have expressed an interest in helping. Wareham Week fielded several such queries in the past week. 

Whiteside said those interested in helping can send donations to the families through Turning Point Day Resource Center and Damien’s Food Pantry.