Volunteers, Staff, Guard Help Link Migrants with Services

September 14, 2023
Members of the Massachusetts National Guard arrived at the Bedford Plaza Hotel on Wednesday to help the newly-arrived migrants and the people who are working with them. Staff photo by Mike Rosenberg

More than a half-century ago, the fourth-floor function room at the Arrowhead Motor Inn was a local hot spot for banquets and partiers.

On Wednesday, the space served as a welcome center for scores of migrant families, placed by state government in what is now the Bedford Plaza Hotel for emergency shelter.

As of Thursday, there were 78 families comprising more than 200 individuals, said Heidi Porter, Director of Health and Human Services for the town. On Wednesday, the most recent arrivals gathered in the lobby outside the function room to learn about available services.

Families were ushered to stations for triage and social-work services as well as registration for school when appropriate. 

Susan Schwartz is chair of the Bedford Board of Health, but her role with the new arrivals this week is as a member of the town’s Community Emergency Response Team (CERT). Schwartz said she and other CERT volunteers have been doing a lot of driving for health care, but she had also logged enough hours at the hotel for some of the small children to spontaneously run up and give her a hug.

On Wednesday, she was the point person for welcoming families into the processing area. And her first question – with translators standing by – was always: “What language?” Most of the new residents are from Haiti; some emanate from Spanish-speaking nations.

One of the volunteer translators assisting the town’s social workers, Hananiah Pierre-Louis of Dorchester, said he departed Haiti when he was 15 and lived with relatives in Boston’s Hyde Park neighborhood. Today he is a nurse at Boston Medical Center, a graduate student, and a homeowner.

Pierre-Louis, who donated his time and translation skills as a member of Grace Chapel in Lexington, said he hopes his life story will serve as a model for the young people who found emergency shelter in Bedford over the past six weeks.

Six Massachusetts National Guard personnel, including an officer, arrived at the hotel around noon on Wednesday and immediately began orientation with the employees and volunteers who have been managing the site.

School Superintendent Cliff Chuang told the School Committee earlier this week that one or two Guardsmen will be stationed at the Bedford Plaza every day for six hours a day. 

Six Massachusetts National Guard personnel, including an officer, arrived at the Bedford Plaza Hotel on Wednesday and immediately began orientation with the employees and volunteers who have been managing the site. Staff photo by Mike Rosenberg

“We are grateful to have the National Guard on site but they are still figuring out the resources they have to offer,” Porter said on Thursday.

Within an hour, dressed in olive drab camouflaged fatigues, the Guard personnel took over the check-in desk outside the ballroom and conferred with the Health Department’s social workers on helping with their stations.

One of the enlisted men was in deep conversation with a Haitian refugee – through a translation app on a cell phone.

On Wednesday afternoon, Porter had a command post in a side room, meeting with the National Guard delegation, Police Chief John Fisher, and Capt. Mark Daniels, the Fire Department’s safety officer. Fisher said department heads confer on Zoom every morning to review priorities and changes.

Porter outlined a few imminent needs:

  • “Volunteers to get people, especially pregnant women and children with health concerns, to medical appointments, some as far away as Boston.” She said volunteers clear an application process (simply an application form and Cori/Sori process that takes only a day or two to process). The forms are on the Health Department website.
  • “The residents are also asking for some culturally appropriate and supportive food that we will continue to add to our Amazon wish list.” https://www.amazon.com/hz/wishlist/ls/1DGNNRSI2ZQ9P/ref=hz_ls_biz_ex
  • “Many still need MassHealth and SNAP (nutrition assistance) benefits. We need to transport these folks to sign-up centers out of town.”
  • There will be an appeal for adult clothing in a few days. A drop-off site will be announced; it will not be at the hotel.
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