lowell inn and conference center

CTI: An opportunity to embrace those seeking refuge in our city

The entrance to UMass Lowell’s Inn and Conference Center, off Warren Street in Downtown Lowell. The ICC, which doubles as a public hotel, closed its reservation system to bookings as of Sept. 13, and students who were assigned to the ICC for the upcoming semester are being relocated to other dorms to make way for housing of migrant families and pregnant women fleeing violence and unrest in Haiti and Venezuela. (Melanie Gilbert/Lowell Sun)

September 10, 2023 at 2:54 a.m.

Community Teamwork has been a steadfast pillar of support in our community, providing homeless shelters for families since 1983, when the Commonwealth became a right-to-shelter state for families facing housing insecurity and as such, it has the legal obligation to offer shelter to residents who qualify for the assistance.

Over the past four decades, we have assisted thousands of families, not just from Lowell but also from towns all across the Commonwealth. In addition, we have welcomed hundreds of migrant, immigrant, and refugee individuals and families who arrived in Lowell seeking a better life, providing not only shelter but services beyond emergency housing, such as rental assistance, child care, and job search and support, to name a few.

As we look ahead to the possible transformation of the University of Massachusetts Lowell’s Inn & Conference (ICC) Center into a homeless shelter for families, there has been a cloud of speculation about who will arrive and what that will mean for our city. Some voices are spreading misinformation, fueling fear and mistrust. We, instead, see this as an opportunity to embrace those who are seeking refuge in our city as we have done in the past. Lowell is not shouldering a burden that others have refused. In fact, roughly 80 other communities across the state have also stepped up and responded to Governor Healey’s State of Emergency by establishing additional shelter locations in the form of hotels or larger congregate settings. When and if the ICC is transformed into a shelter, it will serve as a haven for all families within the Commonwealth who are housing insecure, including those right here in Lowell. This is not only a migrant issue. It is a housing and homelessness issue.

The data says it all. From last year to this year the number of homeless families has doubled, from just over 3,000 families statewide to over 6,000. The Commonwealth has also gone from two hotel sites statewide to more than 80 hotels now being used across the state to meet the growing instability of housing in the state. Family homelessness is increasing for ALL residents of Massachusetts because of the lack of affordable housing units for working families and middle- and lower-class households are being forced out of rental markets at rapid rates. This has been further exacerbated since the pandemic. Since October 2022, Community Teamwork alone has expanded its family shelter portfolio by 113 families with fewer than half of these families being migrant families. Many families are long-time residents of Massachusetts, including our neighbors, family members, young adults, and others who are being pushed out of homes due to the lack of affordable housing.

We know that, more than any other factor, the drastic increase in housing costs and the lack of production of safe, affordable housing is a cause of homelessness. Community Teamwork and other partner organizations, have been publicly ringing the alarm bell on the housing crisis since before the pandemic. Along with these partners, we committed to working with our community leaders and developers to create 300 low threshold units of housing to try to alleviate homelessness in Greater Lowell, the minimum amount of units to provide homes for the current unhoused population. We now have more than 50 units in production but need many more to address this crisis. (Please see Let’s Talk About Housing website for more information, commteam.org/talkabouthousing)

Lowell has proudly worn the badge of a Gateway City, embracing its rich diversity and heritage of welcoming new cultures. With that said, we recognize that recent waves of migrant families coming from places like Haiti and Venezuela have raised concerns about the potential for a significant influx of newcomers and what that will impose upon the city and city resources. We acknowledge the challenges that come with hosting new families and we fully support the request for additional State funding for these added expenses. Nevertheless, we have unwavering faith in our community’s ability to come together and create a safe and supportive environment for those children, parents, and families who arrive in our city.

Lowell is a well-resourced city, with strong non-profits, public private partnerships and a history of collaboration stands in a much stronger position than many other smaller Massachusetts cities and towns to welcome families — all families — who are experiencing housing insecurity. It is also important to remember that Lowell has historically welcomed migrants from all parts of the world and we have seen how successful these immigrants have become and more importantly, how critical they are to the success of our city.

Karen Frederick, Chief Executive Officer, Community Teamwork
Carl Howell, Chief Program Officer, Community Teamwork