FAQ - Emergency Shelter for Families Experiencing Homelessness 

house symbolThe Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) intends to locate an Emergency Family Shelter at the Best Western on 740 Elm St. in Concord.  The family shelter meets a critical need of Massachusetts families experiencing homelessness.  The Town of Concord is working with the DHCD to understand the impact on various town services and identify key supportive needs in preparation of welcoming these vulnerable families. 

This FAQ was developed to address questions and concerns that have been raised because of this news. The FAQs will be updated as more information and details are developed.  Rep. Simon Cataldo released a related statement on February 7, 2023, which may be of interest and can be found here.

Updated correspondence from the Office of Simon Cataldo dated February 27, 2023.

FAQ (Updated 3/27/23)

What can we do as a community to support these families?

There has been an outpouring of offers to support the family shelter and its residents since news of the family shelter was announced.  We are pleased to report several ways to help.  The Concord-Carlisle Community Chest is coordinating efforts with Making Opportunities Count (MOC), the family shelter site service provider, to identify opportunities to donate in meaningful ways.  MOC has requested that no donations be dropped off directly at the Best Western. See the Community Chest's website for more information on what gaps need to be filled and how to donate.

Horizons for Homeless Children works in partnership with the state to install play spaces in family shelters across the state, including the Best Western location.  These play spaces are staffed by trained volunteers called Playspace Activity Leaders (PALs).    PALs are trained in a trauma-informed approach to play in the areas of dramatic play, literacy, manipulatives, arts and crafts and infant activities.  Horizons for Homeless Children is hosting a PALs training session in April in Concord.  More information can be found here.  

What is the updated arrival of families to the Best Western?

Families arrived for medium and long-term stays at the Best Western the week of March 13th. Most of the school-aged children who will be staying at the Best Western will be transported to their home school districts outside of Concord for the duration of their stay. A minority of the students will be enrolled at Concord schools. The school district is coordinating with the on-site service provider to ensure that every students’ educational needs are met as quickly as possible. 

Some of the rooms at the Best Western will be used for transitional stays of a maximum of 5 days. School-aged children in this group will not be enrolled in Concord schools or transported to their home districts. 

Have town officials met with DHCD since the January 31 meeting? 

The Town Manager, Superintendent of Schools and town staff; including Fire, Police, Human Services, Health, and the Town Manager's Office, met with representatives from DHCD and DESE on Friday, February 24, 2023 to get an update on plans for the emergency family shelter at the Best Western.  Also in attendance were Reps. Barrett and Cataldo.  Updates of note include:

  • Tentative arrival date of first families has shifted from March 1 to on or about March 13, 2023.
  • Facility to serve as an "in-take" shelter, with families transitioning to more permanent housing within 3-5 days.  Over the long term, the facility may also serve as medium term housing until longer term housing is identified.
  • Transportation to be provided by MOC (Making Opportunities Count), the on-site manager/service provider, in addition to being responsible for meeting the needs of the resident parties, including food, case management, and security. 
  • Initially DHCD estimates there will be up to 50 families housed on an emergency basis.  The greatest need in the area is for young, single women with infants and/ or other young (preschoolers).
  • The 9 parties who have been living in long-term residence at the Best Western were given the opportunity to stay.  Six will stay and 3 have chosen to relocate.  The parties who have elected to stay will be located to one wing of the motel. 

What is an "in-take" shelter?

Once a family identifies as unhoused and qualifies for the Emergency Assistance program managed by DHCD, they are offered emergency shelter.  While at the in-take facility, needs and services are assessed and appropriate longer-term housing is identified.  Currently, at the Devens facility this is typically a 3-5 day process from arrival to transition to more permanent housing.  The Devens center will be phased out over the next several weeks, with in-take services transitioned to the Best Western.  Advantages of the in-person in-take model is ability to get to know clients, form relationships and better assess and meet their needs.

Why is an emergency family shelter necessary?

There is a critical shortage of shelter beds, particularly in our area.  Families waiting for housing are staying at Devens in barracks style accommodations on cots for an average of 3-5 days.  Bathrooms and showers are shared.  Currently there are 25 families from Concord and the surrounding area housed at an emergency shelter in Devens.  In the near term, the Devens in-take facility will close.  The motel model for emergency shelter has clear advantages over the barracks style as it provides a private room and bathroom facilities for families.

What is DHCD’s plan for the Best Western in Concord?

DHCD intends to lease all 105 rooms from the Best Western on an annual basis, with the first lease term being March 1 – June 30, 2023. This a voluntary contract that Best Western management entered with the DHCD. Six of the rooms are to be retained by the long-term residents at Best Western in one wing of the motel.  Approximately 9 rooms will be used as office and other staff space.  MOC does not intend to use more than 50 rooms in-take emergency shelter, which is based on the current capacity at Devens.   

At some point in the future, additional rooms could be used as medium-term housing while more permanent housing is identified.  The need for more permanent housing is exceeding the stock of housing resources, such as scattered apartment sites, congregate housing and shared housing.  

Who will be staying at the family shelter?

Families who have qualified for the Emergency Assistance program managed by DHCD.

What is “Right to Shelter"?

Massachusetts has a “right to shelter” law for families with children and pregnant women, which means that shelter must be provided.

What is the DHCD’s role in addressing family homelessness?

The Massachusetts family homelessness system is called the Emergency Assistance (EA) program and is operated by the DHCD.  Emergency Assistance is a program that provides unhoused families with children access to emergency shelter and help finding permanent housing.  DHCD oversees all state-run family shelters, and that state-wide, there are only 3,600 shelter units in place.  

How long will families stay at the shelter?

DHCD shelters meet three needs:

  • Provide temporary housing for 3 - 5 days while more permanent housing is located.
  • Provide temporary housing for  2 – 4 months when more permanent housing isn’t readily available; and
  • Provide temporary housing for pregnant women and infants.

How is the family shelter managed?

Every DHCD shelter has an on-site service provider.  In this case, the on-site service provider is MOC (Making Opportunities Count)   The on-site service provider will have a 24/7 presence and provide clients with case management, connections to resources, housing search assistance and the coordination of direct care.  Horizons for Homeless Children is coordinating play spaces for the children, which will be staffed by volunteers trained in trauma informed-informed areas of play.

How is the family funded shelter funded?

The Emergency Assistance program is fully funded by the state.  Governor Healey has made affordable housing her first legislative priority.  She filed H.47 with the legislature which seeks additional funds for emergency shelters across the state.  For those interested, more can be read about this here: https://www.wgbh.org/news/politics/2023/01/30/healey-emergency-aid-depleted-family-shelters-at-capacity, or her signing statement.

Will the children attend Concord Public Schools?

While some of them may, others will not. Some children at this family shelter site will not be school-age and others are already enrolled in other school districts in Massachusetts and will continue to attend those schools. The Concord Public School Department is working with the DHCD to be prepared to support any incoming students who are unhoused. 

How will meals be provided?

DHCD is working with local vendors to provide food service for family shelter residents.  Snacks and other necessities will be provided.

When were Town officials contacted about locating a family shelter in Concord?

On January 23, the Town of Concord was notified that the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) intends to establish an emergency family shelter at the Best Western in Concord, effective March 1, 2023.

Are there building code requirements that the Best Western must comply with for the purpose of housing beyond thirty days? (updated 2/25/23)

In order to use the Best Western for medium-term housing, the Town is requiring DHCD to conduct a building code review and address any deficiencies.  If any are identified, a building permit will be required.   The Building Commissioner raised a question about the construction of the building as it relates to the definition of residential uses. The request for a Code Review of the existing structure by a qualified architect is based on the fact that the International Building Code notes that 310.3 Residential Group R-1 occupancies containing sleeping units where the occupants are primarily transient in nature includes Hotels and Motels.  Within that description, there is a statement that “If a hotel offers rooms for short-term housing (i.e., more than 30 days), the facility must comply with the provision for both Groups R-1 and R-2 (see Section 302.1).”  The Building Commissioner does not know if the current hotel (constructed circa 1960) meets the requirements of both provisions of the State Building Code as now required, or whether it’s necessary to bring the building up to the R-2 code if needed, hence the request for a Code Review by a qualified architect.

Does a municipality have the authority to refuse a shelter? 

DHDC does not require local approval to site a shelter.  On January 31, DHCD leadership met with representatives from the following Town departments to share an overview of the plan and evaluate the impact on town services:  Human Services; Library; DPLM (Building, Health & Planning); Police; Fire; Recreation; Library and Town Manager's Office.  Dr. Hunter also participated in the meeting on behalf of the school department.   

How is the housing situation for current long-term residents at the Best Western being addressed? (updated 2/25/23)

The DHCD is working with Best Western management on a case-by-case basis to resolve the housing needs of current long-term residents. All nine parties were offered the opportunity to stay.  Six accepted the offer and will stay in a wing separate from the families in the Emergency Assistance program.  Three relocated to other places.

How is the community kept informed about this issue and others?

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