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Amid a statewide migrant shelter crisis, one family in need finds a temporary home in Brookline

Colin and Jessica Stokes at their Brookline home, where they are hosting a family of refugees from Haiti. The Haitian family asked not to be photographed for this story. Photo by Andrew Burke-Stevenson
February 7, 2024

As a flood of migrants overwhelms shelters and other resources in Massachusetts, one family that had been sleeping on the floor at Logan Airport has found refuge in the six-bedroom home of a Brookline couple whose nest has started to empty.

For the family – 34-year-old Anthonyne, 38-year-old Edner, 15-year-old Naika, and 6-year-old Eduardo – the journey began in 2017 when they left impoverished Haiti for better opportunities in Chile that never materialized. The family, who began their trek north late last year, asked to be identified only by their first names.

In November, Brookline Town Meeting members Jessica, 51, and Colin Stokes, 50, read an email from another local elected official asking for help hosting a family for even one night. After a few discussions with their 18-year-old daughter, who is away at college, and their 15-year-old son, they told the state’s Office of Refugees and Immigrants that they might be able to help.

The families’ paths converged on Jan. 6. The Stokeses, having readied their home, said “yes” when Bay State Community Services in Quincy called about a family seeking shelter.

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“We have a family of four here, and as soon as we get the go-ahead, I can put them in the car to you,” a representative of the organization told Colin. He gave the go-ahead.

Within half an hour, Anthonyne, Edner, Naika and Eduardo showed up at their door.

“It’s hard to find someone who could have four people – four of us – stay at their house for any time,” Anthonyne said in Spanish through an interpreter. “It’s a blessing from God.”

A month later, Anthonyne and her family are still living in the Brookline home, trying to piece together what to do next. The list of needs includes housing for the family, jobs for the adults and school for the children.

“We have plenty of space,” Jessica Stokes said. “My husband and I had been talking for years about wanting to do something like this. So he was like, well, maybe the time is now.”

A long journey 

The family is part of a wave of Haitians who, according to the New York Times, moved to Chile in recent years for its stable economy and liberal entry criteria and subsequently left for the U.S. after conditions there grew harsher.

Anthonyne and her family moved from the small western Haiti port community of Léogâne to Chile to escape economic hardship and instability. Their infant daughter, who is now 8, remained in Haiti, living with Anthonyne’s sister. “It makes me really sad to not have her with me,” Anthonyne said.

In Haiti, Anthonyne had been a shopkeeper and her husband was an electronics teacher, she said. Although they found occasional jobs in Chile harvesting fruit or cleaning offices, she said it was hard to find consistent work.

In Chile, “these farms and businesses, they preferred to work with Bolivians and Peruvians and not us,” Anthonyne said. “So we were left out, I think because of discrimination, because of our skin color. So that’s why we decided to come here.”

After a flight to Lima, Peru, they spent 17 days on a series of buses traversing South and Central America before arriving in the Mexican border city of Piedras Negras. Weeks later, on Dec. 29, the U.S. government cleared them to enter the country. They crossed the Eagle Pass International Bridge and found their way to San Antonio.

Fellow Haitans they met in San Antonio pointed them to Quincy, where they were told they could find a large Haitian community and organizations to help them get jobs and a place to stay. With financial assistance they found in Texas, they flew to Boston, only to discover that state-run shelters were full, and waiting lists were long. There was no place for them to stay. For four nights, they slept in Logan Airport and took taxis back to Quincy during the day for food and water.

Finally, on Jan. 6, someone from Bay State Community Services, in coordination with state immigrant assistance officials, called them the cab that brought them to Brookline.

“I was happy for that news because I was in bad shape sleeping at the airport with the kids,” Anthonyne said. “It was very good news for us.”

Finding refuge in Brookline

The family is staying on the third floor of the Stokeses’ Victorian house between Coolidge Corner and Brookline Village, in a spacious, carpeted room. It has a queen-sized futon and two twin beds, and its own bathroom.

The family does not speak English, so they and the Stokeses have been piecing together conversations, between Jessica’s French and Colin’s little bit of Spanish.

“They’re desperate to help,” Jessica said. “They keep asking, can they cook for us? Can they clean for me? Shovel the snow? What else can they do?”

As much as she and her husband remind themselves that they’re the family’s hosts, not their caseworkers, they have felt compelled to help however they can.

State workers and other service providers they’ve spoken to are “overwhelmed,” Jessica said.

“Little by little, we’ve been piecing together what this family should be doing to make sure they access all the services that are available to them. It’s quite tricky to make sense of it all,” she said. “It’s a front row seat into how broken this system is.”

They’ve rallied help from the Brookline community and their own friends, who have donated boots and winter coats for the family, helped with translation, and driven them to appointments to try to get services.

Anthonyne and her husband are in the process of applying for work permits, often a months-long process.

They are also trying to figure out how to enroll their children in school.

That process took a step forward this week when the family spoke to Brookline school officials through an interpreter to start the registration process. They are scheduled for placement testing next week, according to Jessica Stokes.

Naika, the 15-year-old daughter, was two months shy of finishing her second year of high school in Chile.

“She doesn’t want to lose the whole school year,” Anthonyne said, as 6-year-old Eduardo ran around the kitchen, offering everyone in the room a piece of candy, and banged on a piano in the next room.

“We’ve got to get them in school,” Jessica said.

She has been impressed, she added, by the resilience of Naika, who did not speak any English when she arrived in Boston.

In clear English three days after arriving in Brookline, Naika told Jessica, “In four months I will speak English.”

What’s next?

It’s not clear how long the family will stay in Brookline. State workers have told the Stokeses that they’re under no obligation to make a long-term commitment and can end their hosting whenever they like.

“It’s really been no burden at all for us,” Jessica said. “We have said we’re happy to keep them with us until their name comes up on the [housing] waiting list. We have no indication of how long that will be.”

Her husband agrees.

“Even if it’s frustrating at times, this is a really valuable and positive thing that our family has embarked on,” Colin said. “We’re having a great experience, even our teenager, and it just feels like we’re doing one small bit, which is a pretty big bit for this particular family.”

Correction: Due to a reporting error, a previous version of this story stated that Anthonyne and Edner have received work permits. In fact, they have applied for work permits.