For Boston’s migrants, no more sleeping at Logan Airport - The Boston Globe (2024)

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The de-facto overnight shelter at Logan had quietly come to an end.

Related: Migrants will no longer be allowed to sleep at Logan Airport, Healey administration says

Tuesday morning, Flore Mervil, 26, sat on the floor of airport, reshuffling the baby clothes and snacks in her suitcase. Her 1-year-old son, Nathan crawled around, occasionally grinning to reveal two small bottom teeth.

While she had been sleeping at the airport for almost two weeks, she has been in Boston for the past two years. When she first came on a visa from Haiti, she lived with her family until she got pregnant with Nathan and found it hard to continue working. After getting kicked out of her family’s home, she bounced between different friends’ homes before they too kicked her out, and she found herself sleeping at the airport.

For the past few days, a shelter picked her and her son up from the airport, dropping them back off at night to sleep.

“This experience was the worst, it was very hard for us. … I can tell you that it was like a punishment,” Mervil said, describing the experience of having to pack up her belongings and go to a shelter only to return to the airport and do the same the next day.

She doesn’t know exactly where she is going next but she hopes to find work soon.

For Boston’s migrants, no more sleeping at Logan Airport - The Boston Globe (1)

The overnight sleeping ban came as Healey sent a delegation to five Texas towns near the US-Mexico border to convey to immigration officials and migrant families that the state’s shelter system is at capacity. That reality has not stopped record numbers of immigrant families from arriving in Boston. Some have friends or relatives here, others know no one and simply say they heard through word of mouth that Greater Boston has organizations to help them navigate America’s various bureaucracies and carve out a new life.

Related: Healey to send team to Mexico border to share realities of state’s maxed-out family shelter system

If a family at the airport is on the Emergency Assistance shelter waitlist, they will be offered transfer to new safety-net sites, which includes a former prison in Norfolk that has reopened as emergency housing.

For months, sleeping bags, air mattresses, and blankets have become a familiar sight in a corner of Terminal E, not far from the international arrivals gate, where families have been sleeping while awaiting placement in a state-run emergency shelter. The scenes of people sheltering on the hard floor typified the ongoing migrant crisis, driven by violent unrest abroad, particularly in Haiti.

Logan had become a social safety net when other safety nets failed. And as of June 27, more than 3,800 migrant families were in the state’s emergency shelter system. During the previous two weeks, 482 families applied for shelter. More than 400 were in overflow shelter sites.

Almost without fail, migrants who ate and slept at Logan said they did so because they had nowhere else to go.

Lubien Dumezil sat on a ledge outside the arrivals gate at Logan Terminal E around 8:30 p.m., waiting on a friend and fellow Haitian migrant slated to arrive later that night.

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Speaking in Haitian-Creole, Dumezil, 35, said his friend was flying from Dallas because he heard Massachusetts is “a state that greets migrants.” Dumezil looked at the corner families used to set up in, blockaded Tuesday evening by a plastic fence. “I know people used to sleep there,” he said, through an interpreter.

L. Scott Rice, the state’s emergency assistance director, had said in a statement that the administration’s decision to ban overnight stays is “in the best interest of families and travelers and staff at Logan, as the airport is not an appropriate place for people to seek shelter.”

Related: Despite the state’s efforts, Logan Airport continues to be a front line in the migrant crisis

In recent days, with Tuesday’s deadline approaching, the crowds had dwindled at Terminal E. In late May, more than 120 people were sleeping there. Last Friday, there were about 30 people camping out for the night. Monday night the number was less than two dozen. And as of 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, the terminal was quiet. A state official waited by a table to assist anyone who showed up to sleep, as did a worker from a local nonprofit. Nearby, people stood waiting for loved ones to emerge from the international arrivals gate.

About 12 hours earlier, the families at the airport began to wake up. Around 6 a.m., a woman, rubbing the sleep from her eyes, walked into the bathroom. A man, toiletries in hand, shielded his face with a sweater from the news crews that set up in front of makeshift beds and suitcases.

Wilner Leus arrived at Logan Monday with his family. His tiny toddlers bounced around him and ate crackers while they waited to leave the airport.

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Leus left Haiti six years ago, heading first to Chile and then Mexico before coming to Boston. As for where he is going next, he has no plan in sight.

“There’s nothing really that’s preoccupying me [more] than finding someone that could help me find another place to stay,” he said through an interpreter.

Duckenson Saint Elus, 26, also flew in Monday. He said he was unaware he would no longer be allowed to sleep in the airport after Tuesday.

At around 7 a.m. a state trooper arrived, telling the families to present their passports.

The families deflated their air mattresses, rolled up yoga mats, zipped up their suitcases, and formed a line.

Soon enough, they were ushered into taxi cabs that were to take them to welcome centers. Where they will land after that is unclear.

For decades, homeless families have been guaranteed shelter under a 1980s-era law in Massachusetts, the only statewide right-to-shelter requirement in the United States.

But as the housing crisis ramped up and economic and political unrest in Central and South American countries sent more migrants north, the system was overwhelmed.

Healey declared a state of emergency last August and, weeks later, said she would activate up to 250 members of the National Guard to help families living in some hotels access medical care, find transportation, or organize food deliveries.

In the fall, Healey capped capacity in state-run emergency shelters at 7,500 families — the first restriction on how many people the state would house in the system. And on May 1, state officials began to limit stays in state-run overflow shelters to 30 days, requiring people to reapply monthly and show they are also seeking work authorization, pursuing new housing, or taking other steps to stay in the rapidly expanding program.

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This spring, the Legislature passed a spending bill that gave the Healey administration the authority to kick out families that have lived in state-run emergency shelters for nine months or longer.

Correspondent Daniel Kool contributed to this report.

Danny McDonald can be reached at daniel.mcdonald@globe.com. Follow him @Danny__McDonald. Helena Getahun-Hawkins can be reached at helena.getahunhawkins@globe.com.

For Boston’s migrants, no more sleeping at Logan Airport - The Boston Globe (2024)
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