Massachusetts Temporary Shelters Overflow: Is It A Shelter Crisis Or A Housing Crisis?

A few people try to force their way through gates blocked by many
This scene was created by and is licensed under CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication

A right to temporary housing? Sorry, Massachusetts is all full up with its existing responsibilities to locals in distress. There’s no room for incomers.

The issue at hand in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts is not a Human Right to Adequate Housing as defined/described by the the United Nations. ‘Adequate’ includes ‘security of tenure1.’ It means that a home-dweller cannot simply be thrown out without valid reason. American temporary emergency shelter, by contrast, typically includes ‘see you later’ sunset clauses.

The US remains uncommitted, perhaps forever, to a right of citizens to enjoy security of tenure. Whether accidental or deliberate, such a guarantee is missing from the United States Constitution. It means that a Right to Adequate Housing is more of an aspiration than a universally guaranteed American privilege.

However, a lack of constitutional heft does not necessarily define the space within American hearts and minds for the welfare of their fellow humans. Over the years, well-meaning laws have burdened communities to provide community residents with at least a right to some form of temporary emergency shelter.

The right to temporary emergency shelter has been receiving considerable attention recently, reflecting community responsibilities to more than local citizens who have fallen upon hard times. Recent debate has centred on whether migrants and refugees are also entitled to temporary emergency shelter.

National publicity has focussed on New York City, which is guided by a legal requirement to provide temporary emergency shelter. NYC is becoming overwhelmed by incomers arriving from the southern U.S. border.

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts is also committed to a local right to emergency shelter. Massachusetts, too, is feeling the pinch of a family shelter law conceived for the support of its own citizens. Like NYC, Massachusetts is faced with the considerable temporary shelter needs of  ‘foreign’ incomers.

Is the issue at hand one of excessive numbers of refugees? Or is it a crippling lack of ‘adequate housing’ as defined by the United Nations, which is either accidentally or deliberately omitted from the United States Constitution?

Two involved citizens argue the toss. Read more in Commonwealth Magazine: Right to shelter: is it a migrant magnet?


  1. The UN’s comments about security of tenure begin on page 3 of The Right to Adequate Housing