Norfolk residents unhappy about migrant housing at prison site


Amidst migrant crisis, residents said they are worried about adding children to an already overcrowded school system.

The Bay State Correctional Center, which was decommissioned in 2015, is slated 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 over the state’s plan to open an emergency shelter at the former prison there.

Residents said they are worried about adding more children to the already overcrowded and underfunded school system.

“There is no turning back when this happens. Our schools are overcrowded as it is, we have a budget problem – this isn’t a humanitarian question, this is a mathematical question, it cannot happen,” said John Semas, a Norfolk resident, to Boston 25 News.

Another woman, during public comment, said, “Now we are considering adding additional children onto the plate of our already stretched-too-thin teachers and expecting it just to work?”

Others worried about the bullying of the new students.

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

But not everyone was against the new shelter.

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

The meeting follows Monday’s announcement by Gov. Maura Healey that the state will use the former prison as a temporary safety net shelter for families experiencing homelessness, which has seen a surge in part due to the influx of migrants to the state.

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

According to the state, the site should be up and running 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 exit and return as needed.

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

Many at the meeting also voiced concerns over the impact of a surge of families on the small town of about 11,000 residents.

“They’ve all had background checks,” James Lehan, a Norfolk town selectman, said during the meeting. “There are no criminals. There are no sex offenders.”

Norfolk Fire Chief told Boston 25 News that the town is also expecting an increase of 5 to 10 percent in calls, which could impact residents’ response times.

Massachusetts state Rep. Marcus Vaughn, a Republican representing the 9th Norfolk district, told WCVB he only learned about the plan on Friday. As the town tries to get funding from the state, he urges residents to remain civil.

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

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