Town, Awaiting Help from Guard, Now Hosts 56 Migrant Families

September 5, 2023

As state agencies continue to place migrant families in emergency shelter at the Bedford Plaza Hotel, the town has received a promise of assistance from the Massachusetts National Guard.

But that probably won’t arrive until sometime next week, said Bedford Health and Human Services Director Heidi Porter, as the citizen-soldiers are undergoing special training.

Meanwhile, over the weekend, another 18 families arrived in Bedford, bringing the total to 56, Porter said. Like the earlier arrivals, most are from Haiti.

There are more than 6,000 families in emergency shelters throughout the state, according to the office of Gov. Maura Healey. There are state shelter coordinators in many cities and towns, and Healey activated some 250 National Guardspersons to help Bedford and other localities that didn’t receive staff persons.

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“We heard directly from the governor’s office that as an unsupported shelter, we are going to be receiving National Guard support,” Porter said. The Guardspersons, she was advised, “are going to be either on site or on call,” as an individual or as part of a team. The assigned shelter managers are providing constant coverage, she noted.

“We have a lot to share and we want to make sure we are connected to whoever is doing the training,” Porter said. “We don’t want to reinvent the wheel.”

Meanwhile, Bedford Health and Human Services Department staff are coordinating community relief efforts, while the Bedford Superintendent of Schools’ office prepares to assess the impact of the latest arrivals on classroom population. The state will be providing $18,000 per pupil in aid.

“I know our social work team is doing a tremendous job — it is remarkable. We need the cadre from the National Guard to come in because they need a break,” Porter said.

A public health nursing team meets with the refugees on Wednesdays. Porter said, and “we are not seeing evidence of a widespread respiratory illness. They look like they are in pretty good shape.” 

Almost all of the families have one or two children, she said; those with more have connecting hotel rooms. Before the latest arrivals, there were six pregnant women, all monitored by medical specialists at local hospitals, she reported.

Porter’s office in Town Center is accepting donations, which they urge should be in the form of cash, checks, or gift cards, especially to stores within walking distance of the hotel at 340 The Great Road. Some migrants have run into digestive issues with an unfamiliar diet, Porter said, so if they can do their own shopping with gift cards, it will mitigate that transition.

“We put in a big order with Cradles to Crayons for clothes for the kids,” Porter said. That agency “has been open to us to put in the extra order.” She said as the migrants start to assimilate, “we may find a need for other items.” As soon as storage space can be found, they will be acquiring strollers, she noted.

“We now have some new residents who left horrible circumstances,” Porter said, encouraging everyone to “be as kind and helpful as you can. We know people are anxious to contribute financially; everyone has been really great and generous. Our new residents have smiling faces and are very grateful.”

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