In December 2016, Greater Boston Legal Services filed a class action lawsuit representing families in Massachusetts’ emergency shelter system.  The suit challenges the state’s failure to comply with laws that require the state to place eligible homeless families in shelter promptly so as to keep children safe and to place families close to their home communities to mitigate the impacts of homelessness.

Massachusetts is mandated to provide shelter when eligible families can show they are homeless because of domestic violence, natural disaster, no-fault eviction, or substantial health and safety risks and meet other strict eligibility criteria. Massachusetts’ and federal laws include provisions requiring that people’s disabilities be accommodated and that hotels be used when other forms of shelter are not available. Despite these legislative mandates, the Baker administration is now refusing to place additional families in motels, even if use of a motel is the only way to keep a family close to home or to meet disability-related needs.

As of the fall of 2017, there were 187 families who had requested and been approved for shelter transfers due to disability-related needs, but whose approved requests had not yet been fulfilled – often for months – due to lack of available shelter space that could meet their needs.

In September 2017, the Suffolk Superior Court entered a preliminary injunction against the recent “no motels” policy to the extent that motels are the only way that the state can provide timely accommodations for disabilities. The Court found that the state’s policy of never using motel placements for emergency housing is having a discriminatory impact on certain families that include a person with disabilities. The Court made clear that the state is free to accommodate these families’ needs in other forms of shelter, but what it cannot do is let their disability-related needs go unaddressed.

The Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) has agreed to hear the state’s appeal of the preliminary injunction. The ACLU of Massachusetts, together with the Greater Boston Legal Services, is urging the SJC to affirm the Superior Court’s order to stop refusing to use motel rooms to meet disability-related needs of families experiencing homelessness.



Ruth Bourquin (ACLU of Massachusetts); Laura Massie and Daniel Manning (Greater Boston Legal Services); Matthew M. Burke, Sara Perkins Jones and Christopher C. Boots (Ropes & Gray LLP)