WEST SPRINGFILED, Mass. (WWLP) – When the 22News I-Team first started reporting on homeless hotels back in 2012, there were more than 1,800 families living in the hotel rooms. By June of 2016, the I-Team discovered there were no more homeless families living in hotels in western Massachusetts.
But then COVID-19 hit, and people needed to be separated to keep from spreading the virus in shelters. Hotels were used for emergency housing once again in 2020.
As of April of 2023, more than 4,300 homeless families were in The Department of Housing and Community Development’s emergency shelter assistance program. More than 850 of those families are living in hotels. Compare that to a year ago, when the state only had 18 families in hotels.
“I don’t think this is a challenge that is going away,” said State Representative Michael Finn. “In my opinion, a lot of the decisions that get made about where families are placed has to do with the cost.”
Rep. Finn said the average room rate to put these families in Boston is more than $200 a night.
But in western Massachusetts, that drops to less than $100.
“The same communities – West Springfield, Holyoke, Westfield, Springfield – are doing this all,” said State Senator John Velis.
He is pushing for more help for these communities on a state level and a federal level.
“Nobody is saying we don’t want to help, we don’t want to welcome,” explained Velis. “What we’re saying is that we need the resources in our communities. There’s only so many resources to go around. This topic is being dealt with now as if every community is doing their part. But nothing could be further from the truth.”
In a statement sent to the 22News ITeam, a Department of Housing and Community Development spokesperson said the housing crisis is being caused by a lack of affordable housing and an increase in people coming to the state. The spokesperson said “we need all communities to play a role in helping to meet our state’s housing needs.”
“For gateway cities like West Springfield, Springfield, Chicopee, it’s almost as if we are being targeted by these programs because we have open arms, and because we are willing to do our fair share,” said Rep. Finn. “But, there needs to be some change there.”
Included in Governor Maura Healey’s recently passed supplemental budget is more funding for school districts that are absorbing children from these homeless families and funding to expand the shelter system across the state.