Above: Sister Tess Browne is a 30-year Quincy resident who arrived in the US from Trinidad & Tobago on September 12, 1963. She spoke at a public meeting to provide more information to community members about an emergency state shelter at Eastern Nazarene College.
Tensions rose during a community meeting held in Quincy, where over 500 residents gathered at Central Middle School to address concerns and ask questions regarding a recently established migrant shelter at Eastern Nazarene College. The “Family Welcome Center,” located on the college’s campus, garnered significant attention when a Massachusetts neo-Nazi group protested outside its dormitory that temporarily accommodated 58 migrants, primarily of Haitian origin. This protest led to a counter-demonstration by the local community.
Further illustrating the division in sentiments, signs saying “We WELCOME you!” stood juxtaposed to posters declaring “NOT HERE.” The establishment of such shelters has caused tensions throughout Massachusetts. The state’s emergency shelter system currently houses around 6,400 families, over a third of whom are immigrants. Quincy Mayor Thomas Koch and other officials emphasized that Quincy is just one of many areas providing shelter for migrants.
The mayor clarified that the city had no involvement in the planning or approval of the welcome center. Some attendees criticized the college for not communicating its plans effectively. In response, college officials admitted there were communication gaps but had tried to address queries from concerned residents.
The meeting also brought forward voices in support of the center, with some students and residents expressing that the shelter had a positive impact. Many recalled their own family’s immigrant backgrounds and emphasized the importance of support during transitions.
Officials specified that the shelter is a temporary facility. Families will stay there briefly while their cases are processed before moving to more permanent housing. Information on the status and updates on the welcome center will be made available on the city’s website.
This is what Sister Tess said about the public meeting:
I identified myself as an SCN, a woman of faith, a Quincy resident, an immigrant, and a US citizen who votes.
I also spoke of the SCNs at the former St Ann’s School, on whose site the Quincy Central Middle School now stands, where Tuesday’s community meeting was held. Various faith leaders were present, including 2 Sisters of Charity of Halifax.
Some of my questions regarding specific support and where to make donations were answered before I spoke. Later, I asked the panelists if there were particular ways in which organized communities of faith could further support the efforts of the state, ENC, Bay State, and AMI (the providers). Several said that just my comments, and others showing up, were the kind of support needed from faith-rooted individuals or organizations.
Some people held up ❤️s. There was a lot of hate, vitriol, and interruptions. Some neighbors of ENC expressed genuine fear for safety, not because of the refugees and immigrants but because of the neo-Nazis who showed up on Saturday. These neo-Nazis, who were cowardly wearing masks, yelled “our streets, white streets” and “Go home”. I believe most of the current families are Haitian.
Eastern Nazarene and the city could have been more proactive in notifying and including nearby residents earlier.
Across the state of MA, there are 80 Welcome Centers (transitional places where families or pregnant women are processed and then moved on). There are 6,400 families statewide, with 58 in Quincy. Since 1983, MA has had a “right-to-shelter” law protecting unhoused families and pregnant women.
I greatly appreciated the many who spoke from a place of compassion or love, or from their own experiences of being a refugee or an immigrant, or having immigrant parents/ancestry, and/or experiences of welcome. Thuy Leung, a Quincy resident and business owner, spoke of being a refugee at age 8, spending 10 days on a boat in the Pacific, and then in a refugee camp. She recounted the joy she experienced when she received a teddy bear and suggested a teddy bear drive, which many supported. The ENC students were fantastic and welcoming. One even mentioned that this was the safest he has felt in the last two years living on campus.
I have profound gratitude for everyone holding up paper hearts and for those who spoke from the heart.