FOX UNDERCOVER (MyFoxBoston.com) -- A two-bed room at the Best Western in Marlboro has been home for Liana Cortes' family of five ever since her apartment was condemned.
"I have three boys, my husband and I. We have two beds and a bathroom and the microwave, that's it. The fridge, I can only fit two three things in it. It's very small," she said.
The emergency accommodations are cramped and uncomfortable not just for her family and the more than 50 others staying at the same hotel, but they're also no bargain for taxpayers, who are paying about $3,000-a-month per room for the more than 2,000 families getting emergency shelter in Massachusetts hotels – a cost far greater than that of a shelter or even most apartment rentals.
But with demand for emergency shelter increasing, the state is spending more money than ever on the hotel program: $46 million in 2013, and the state is on track to spend as much next year.
There are also questions about how well the state is screening people. FOX Undercover discovered that the state placed a Level 3 sex offender, a child rapist, in the same Best Western in Marlboro as Cortes' family and 50 others.
He was moved out after Marlboro authorities complained, but another detail of his past raises more questions. The offender was placed in the hotel after moving here from New York, and it turns out he's far from the only out-of-stater to get free emergency housing in Massachusetts.
FOX Undercover has learned 12 percent of families in the hotels, about 250, moved here from other states just before getting placed in a hotel for emergency shelter.
Families are placed in hotels when the state's shelters are full. Demand has increased so much for emergency housing that the state is now asking the Legislature to approve another $12 million to house people in hotels.
Massachusetts is the only state in the country that's considered a right-to-shelter state, meaning if someone claims to be homeless and meets certain requirements, the state must find them a place to stay.
Some wonder if out-of-state residents in need are coming to Massachusetts just for free temporary housing.
"I think it's hard to refute the fact that we are a magnet for it," said state Rep. Matt Beaton, R-Shrewsbury.
Beaton has seen the impact in his own town. Nearly 50 families receiving emergency assistance moved into a Days Inn in Shrewsbury last year.
"I pride myself on being a Massachusetts resident because we are a very compassionate state. We are always there to help out those most in need. However, people are often going to take advantage of that situation, and we need to be cognizant of that," Beaton said.
Beaton said the state is spending too much money reacting to homelessness instead of investing in preventing it. And he says the welfare hotels are taking a financial toll on communities that have to suddenly enroll dozens of children in their schools or bus them to their old schools which could be an hour away.
Beaton was stunned to learn about the hundreds of out-of-staters now living in Massachusetts hotels for free.
"That's $8 million a year we're spending on families to come to Massachusetts from out of state on the Massachusetts' taxpayer dollar," he said.
One of those out-of-staters is apparently Gladimy Fleuranvil, who was convicted of raping a 3-year-old girl in 2002. But he had no problem getting taxpayer-subsidized housing at the Best Western in Marlboro in a room he shared with two children. The Massachusetts Sex Offender Registry Board even listed his address online as the hotel's address: 181 Boston Post Road West.
"This is a Level 3 sex offender living with two small children. So I think we have to do a better job in screening these families when they're coming out and making sure that we're not putting other children and other families at risk," said Marlboro Mayor Arthur Vigeant.
"How the heck did a Level 3 sex offender get placed there?" Beaudet asked him.
"I can't answer that," Vigeant replied.
FOX Undercover asked the same question of Aaron Gornstein, Massachusetts Undersecretary for Housing and Community Development, which runs the state's emergency assistance program.
"Well our first priority is the safety of our families in the shelter system. We have a procedure and a protocol that we follow," Gornstein said.
That procedure is supposed to include screening for sex offenders.
"Shouldn't the state have known he was there?" Beaudet asked.
"Well again, I think we followed all the procedures that were in place," Gornstein replied.
"I don't understand. How did he get in there if you're screening?" Beaudet asked.
"I can't talk about the specifics of this particular case, but I can tell you that the procedures were followed," Gornstein replied.
As for the hundreds of other families coming here from out of state, Gornstein points out that everyone is required to be a resident of Massachusetts. But he admits residency can take just a few days to establish, and can be accomplished by obtaining a state identification card or enrolling a child in school.
"Is Massachusetts rolling out the welcome mat because we're so generous with our benefits?" Beaudet asked.
"No, I don't think so. I think we have a comprehensive approach to addressing the housing needs of our residents," Gornstein replied.
"Would it bother you if people are coming here just because they know they can get emergency shelter?" Beaudet asked.
"I don't think that's what people are doing. I guess it would bother me," Gornstein replied.
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