State Plans to Close Emergency Shelter in Bedford This Spring

Superintendent of Schools Cliff Chuang on Tuesday told the School Committee that state government plans to close the emergency shelter in the Bedford Plaza Hotel over the next few months.

“We don’t have additional information on the timing or to where residents may be moved,” the superintendent said. “It’s sometime this spring, but the timeline is not clear.”

Town Health and Human Services Director Heidi Porter said on Wednesday that staff from the Executive Office of Housing and Livable Communities “informed all the residents they’d be moving. We understand the state is doing its best to connect as many residents of the shelter system, including those in Bedford’s shelter, to full services.”

The hotel has been home to more than 90 migrant families, most of them from Haiti and Venezuela, since August. There are about 50 school-age children, most attending Davis School.

Chuang said school staff first learned about the plans from children.

“Communication, from my perspective, was not that ideal,” Chuang said, adding that state officials “have agreed to give us as much information as they can as soon as they can.”

The closure, he explained, is “part of a coordinated strategy to ensure that all of the shelters are staffed” through professional management. The Bedford facility is the largest in the state that was never assigned oversight, which is contracted through social-service agencies. That gap has been filled by town and school staff and volunteers.

“Coordinated services,” he said, will help the migrants “secure permanent housing.”

The superintendent said there were some earlier reports that the closure could occur after requests for the assignment of a professional management staff weren’t met.

“Given our size, I think there were some efforts to support us but did not go to fruition,” Chuang said.

“We will begin the process of ensuring families that students will be able to finish the year with us,” Chuang told the committee. He explained that state law allows students to return to their schools of origin if they are not in permanent housing, so over the summer, families will decide whether to return to Bedford or enroll in their new town or city of residence.

Transportation costs are divided by the sending and receiving district, he said, and are supposed to be reimbursed by state funds.

The policy “only extends to kids actually in school,” he stressed. “We have a large group of four-year-olds,” some of whom have older siblings in the schools.

“We have encouraged our teachers to continue a safe and nurturing environment,” Chuang said. “We are working to ensure that we are set up to serve, but don’t overextend ourselves.”

In answer to a question from committee member Sarah McGinley, the superintendent said there are many variables that will affect the number of students the schools will need to support in the new academic year.

“We would rather be ready and overprepared to support students rather than by caught flat-footed,” he said. “Our plan is to coordinate closely with state officials.”

‘We will work with the shelter management that is assigned and our own social workers over the summer so we can plan for appropriate staffing in the fall,” he said

State government has advised school officials that the district will be reimbursed $104 per day per student. Chuang said he is working with Town Manager Matt Hanson and the legislative delegation, as well as with other superintendents, “to make sure the state contributes that funding stream.”

Chuang said there has been discussion of relocating all of the families to a single facility, and he has suggested that it be close to Bedford.

“School can be a stable structure to families whose lives are in transition,” he observed.

Porter said, “Town staff will continue to provide support to the shelter residents while they reside in Bedford and will be available to assist with the transition, as necessary.”

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