SOMERSET — Around 100 migrants have been relocated to a hotel in Somerset as the state contends with an influx of refugees.
“We’re gonna provide as much services as possible,” Selectman Jamison Souza said during a meeting on Wednesday night. “That’s what Somerset residents do. We care for one another.”
On Aug. 8, Governor Maura Healey declared a state of emergency around the number of migrant families arriving in the state and the lack of available placements in shelters. At the time, there were more than 20,000 migrants in state shelters, her office said.
As part of the state of emergency, migrant families have been placed in temporary housing in hotels across the state.
This week, Somerset Town Administrator Mark Ullucci announced that some migrant families have been placed at the Orbits Inn on Riverside Avenue in Somerset.
On Thursday, he told The Herald News the group includes 27 children and around 80 adults. They include migrants from Haiti and Central American as well as some people from the area who were homeless, he said.
Migrants are here legally
At the selectmen’s meeting on Wednesday, some residents raised concerns that the migrants would stretch town resources too thin.
“What I most care about are the taxpayers and how we’re going to be able to afford it,” said resident Jessica Machado. “This is not the same as you or me coming into the community like my grandparents did.”
Ullucci said the town is tracking every use of town services for the migrants. The state of emergency means the town could likely receive federal reimbursements for at least some of the costs, he said.
Machado and several other residents at Wednesday’s meeting referred to the migrants as being undocumented; officials have stressed that all the migrants are in the country legally. Refugees who present themselves at a border crossing are allowed to live in the U.S. legally while they await hearings to formally seek asylum in the country.
“They’ve always been legal,” said Selectmen Allen Smith. “They were refugees. They didn’t sneak into the county.”
New students for Somerset public schools
Of the 27 minors in the group, Ullucci said he was unsure of exactly how many are school-aged. But, he and Superintendent of Schools Jeffrey Schoonover are already discussing how best to integrate those children into the local public schools, he said.
The schools will receive a state stipend of $104 per day for each child and will be eligible to have 50% of transportation costs reimbursed. School officials are working on how to address language barriers with the incoming students, he said.
The hotel owners are collecting shoe and coat sizes for the children from the group so that residents can donate boots and winter coats, Ullucci said.
“Winter is coming. Most of the residents there have not experienced winter,” he said.
Welcoming new residents
Some residents at Wednesday’s meeting said they welcomed the migrants to the town.
“I think it would be good if we look at this as an opportunity and not a problem,” said resident Paul Cogley. “We have an opportunity to be an example for the state, an example of how a community can come together in support of these families who are refuges and show them what the American spirit really is all about.”
He said the town has enough resources to help those in need and urged residents to be compassionate.
“Let’s not hide our feelings and our emotions and our worries or concerns behind a fiscal issue,” he said.