By Mark E. Vogler
Saugus Director of Public Health John R. Fralick III told the Board of Health this week that he’s frustrated because he knows so little about the migrant families who moved into Saugus more than a month ago. At Monday’s monthly board meeting (Sept. 18), he briefed members on “a rapidly evolving, very fluid situation that we’re just trying to keep our finger on the pulse of.”
Fralick said he doesn’t know the exact number of migrants, but estimated they number between 400 and 500 people. He said they have found shelter at the Holiday Inn, the Red Roof Inn, the Avalon Motel and the James Motel. But he’s unable to get a breakdown on just how many units are occupied by migrants who would otherwise be homeless. He said most of the families come from Haiti and Central America.
“We really don’t know how this impacts us because the transparency aspect of this whole thing just doesn’t exist,” Fralick told The Saugus Advocate after the meeting.
“We’re struggling to retroactively build an infrastructure for something we know so little about,” he said.
Fralick told the Board of Health that the National Guard deployed to the Red Roof Inn last week. “We do have a designated point of contact. They will work down there in five and six hour shifts – two uniformed guardsmen onsite for the foreseeable future,” Fralick said.
Gov. Maura Healey activated some 250 National Guard members to provide services at emergency shelter hotels across Massachusetts amid a rise in migrant families arriving in the state. They will assist with food, transportation, medical care and other basic needs of migrant families. They will also help with enrolling children in local schools. Gov. Healey had declared a state of emergency in early August, calling on the federal government to provide assistance.
Board of Selectmen Vice Chair Debra said she’s concerned about how the migrant situation can take its toll on Saugus. “We just don’t know what the overall impact is going to be to our community,” Panetta said.
Fralick said he is concerned about the lack of information that Saugus and other communities are receiving, while being expected to contribute to helping the migrant families. For instance, under the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act of 1987, a homeless person with children living in a shelter in town has the right to have them attend local schools, according to Fralick. “We do have children in the school system and we haven’t really vetted them for tuberculosis, rubella, mumps or measles,” he said.
Fralick said some questions need to be answered, like whether all migrant children receive their required vaccinations before being allowed to attend Saugus schools. “We’re trying our best to get a definitive answer,” Fralick said.
“We just want a definitive answer on what we’re dealing with and what we can expect,” he said.
“We’re trying to keep our finger on the pulse of a situation as best we can with the resources we have,” he said.
Fralick said nobody is disregarding the humanitarian aspect of the situation, noting how the Saugus United Parish Food Pantry in Cliftondale Congregational Church has partnered with some in the community to help the migrants.
Over the last couple of weeks, the state had been triaging families staying in Saugus, including trying to assess their tuberculosis status and other health needs. But the town has not been fully briefed on the full impact of the migrants on community resources and what funds will be available to Saugus to help them. And Fralick and other officials say that’s just not fair.
An additional 1,500 families will be coming to Massachusetts by the end of October, and some of those people could be headed to Saugus, he said. “We’re receiving all of this information after the fact. We’re trying to play catch-up,” Fralick said. “We’re doing what we can.”