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Norfolk residents unhappy with migrant housing on prison site


Amid the migrant crisis, residents said they feared adding children to an already overcrowded school system.

The Bay State Correctional Center, decommissioned in 2015, is expected to house up to 140 families. David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

A few hundred people attended the Norfolk Select Board meeting Wednesday evening to voice concerns about the state’s plan to open an emergency shelter at the former prison.

Residents said they feared adding more children to an already overcrowded and underfunded school system.

“There is no going back when this happens. Our schools are already overcrowded, we have a budget problem – it’s not a humanitarian issue, it’s a math issue, this can’t happen,” Norfolk resident John Semas told Boston 25 News .

Another woman, in public comment, said: “Now we are looking at adding extra children to the work of our already overworked teachers and we expect it to work? »

Others worry about harassment of new students.

“As one of the few black families in this city, I feel compelled to ask this question because I don’t want these children to be targets,” another woman said during public comment.

But not everyone was against the new shelter.

“These people are desperate and trying to find a better life for themselves and their children,” Norfolk resident Taiese Bingham told NBC10. “This community talks so much about humanity and how great we are and how welcoming we are, and I found the complete opposite. »

The meeting follows Gov. Maura Healey’s announcement Monday that the state will use the former prison as a temporary safety net for homeless families, which has seen an increase in part because of the influx of migrants into the state.

The Bay State Correctional Facility was decommissioned in 2015 and remains in good condition, officials told The Associated Press. The shelter will accommodate up to 140 families, or 450 people deemed eligible for emergency assistance.

According to the state, the site should be operational by next month. The state will remove the razor wire on the fence surrounding the facility and the gates will remain open so families will be free to come and go as needed.

The shelter is expected to operate for six months to a year.

Many people at the meeting also expressed concerns about the impact of an influx of families on the small town of about 11,000 residents.

“They all went through background checks,” James Lehan, a Norfolk city official, said at the meeting. “There are no criminals. There are no sex offenders.

Norfolk’s fire chief told Boston 25 News the city also expects a 5 to 10 percent increase in calls, which could impact response times for residents.

Massachusetts State Rep. Marcus Vaughn, a Republican representing Norfolk’s 9th District, told WCVB he only learned of the plan on Friday. As the city tries to secure state funding, he urges residents to remain civil.

“At the end of the day, the community just needs to come together,” Vaughn said.

—Beth Treffeisen


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