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Local Haitian community must step up to help new migrants

Johane Alexis-Phanor

Boston’s Haitian leaders at the forefront of the migrant crisis are overwhelmed and the state’s safety nets are stretched. The established Haitian community must step up to help expedite the integration of Haitian migrants into the local community.

State of emergency
In July, Boston Medical Center (BMC) ended a policy that allowed Haitian families without housing to stay at the hospital overnight. Instead, BMC began to redirect them to Logan Airport, relatives, churches and other secure places.

On Aug. 8, Governor Maura Healey declared a state of emergency, calling for additional funds for shelter, streamlined work authorizations and other services to support newly arrived migrant families, including Haitians. There are more than 20,000 individuals in state shelters, including children and pregnant women. In the second week of November, Massachusetts reached the limit on the number of families that can be accommodated in the state’s emergency shelter system.

As I write, $5 million in federal funds were being committed to provide additional shelter, but it will not be enough. Newly arrived Haitians will be placed on a waiting list and may soon find themselves on the streets.

Collective responsibility
In 2017, there were about 25,000 Haitians living in Boston. That year they owned approximately 455 businesses and earned half a billion dollars.

Given our collective resources, Haitian nonprofits, churches, businesses and, especially, residents must leverage our networks, dollars and community power to solve the migrant crisis.

We must invest in a nerve center to manage the complex network of organizations providing assistance to Haitian migrants. We must also create a listserv with everyone, including local residents, to communicate more effectively and to share information and resources.

Ongoing advocacy
Haitian migrants are spread out over 90 Massachusetts towns. The public sector, along with Haitian organizations like the Immigrant Family Services Institute (IFSI), Association of Haitian Women in Boston (AFAB-KAFANM) and the True Alliance Center (TAC), are working tirelessly to provide food, clothing and shelter; legal and immigration services; employment assistance; education and language access; and cash assistance.

Since Massachusetts is a “right to shelter state,” state troopers have TAC founder Dieufort Fleurissant, known as Pastor “Keke,” on call to assist migrants at the border. Currently, Rev. Fleurissant has more than 1,000 messages on his Whatsapp asking for assistance for migrants.

Headquartered in Mattapan, IFSI has the state’s only one-stop service model for intaking newly arrived Haitian individuals to provide assistance so they can access public benefits. 

The Association of Haitian Women in Boston has convened Haitian churches, community health centers and community organizations to promote greater collaboration. They formed the Task Force for Newly Arrived Haitians. The nine working committees meet weekly and focus on education, housing, mental health and other support services.

How to get involved:

There is still more work to be done. Here’s how local Haitians can help solve the migrant crisis:

• Provide room and board. Boston has an additional dwelling unit program that offers 0% loans to create new space in homes.

• Hire migrants to serve as nannies, caretakers, tutors in French and Spanish, etc.

• Join the Task Force for Newly Arrived Haitians.

• Open spaces in churches and community organizations for day activities and as shelters.

• Volunteer to teach an English as a second language (ESL) class or serve as an interpreter.

• Volunteer to help with resume building and job search.

• Hold clothing drives.

• Provide transportation so migrants can get to appointments.

• Donate to IFSI, TAC and AFAB-KAFANM.

To get involved, contact:

• True Alliance Center (TAC),, 617-749-6947

• Association of Haitian Women in Boston (AFAB-KAFANM),, 617-287-0096

• Immigrant Family Services Institute (IFSI),,; 617-322-1348

Johane Alexis-Phanor, a second-generation Haitian who grew up in Mattapan, is a fundraising and communications consultant.

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