The City of Portland continues to house between 200-250 asylum seekers at the Portland Expo, and has processed 350 individuals since June 9. Over the last several weeks, City staff have focused their efforts on finding temporary and long-term housing opportunities for the approximately 70 families residing there in addition to the 42 families that currently reside at the Family Shelter on Chestnut Street. The City is currently working with a deadline of August 15 for when the Expo needs to be returned to its contractually obligated operations.
The City is extremely grateful for the continued community support related to donations, volunteers, and finding housing opportunities, and will continue to rely on this support. The City Manager and City staff held a meeting today with immigrant community leaders to discuss the importance of successfully housing the asylum seekers living at the Expo in units the City has found available in surrounding communities. All parties agreed that it will take support from City staff and community leaders, and their respective non-profit organizations, to ensure that these transitions are successful and people are able to acclimate to their new living situations. The City is also working with its partners to run a cultural orientation program for asylum seekers at the Expo in order to help them understand their future housing options.
“I’m proud of the work our city and staff has done to take care of the asylum seekers who have arrived in Portland,” said City Manager Jon Jennings. “Our focus right now is on making sure we can successfully transition these folks into available housing opportunities, as we have always done with past asylum seeker arrivals. I’m thankful for the support we’ve received from Maine Housing and others who have offered up rental units. The City simply cannot do this all on our own given our resources. That’s why I was glad to meet with many of the immigrant community leaders today. We all agreed that our goal is to make sure we can house as many new arrivals as quickly as possible.”
“I’m thankful that we had the opportunity to sit down today with the City Manager and City staff to talk about our efforts to assist these asylum seekers and make sure we’re all on the same page in terms of how we can help transition them out of the Expo so they can begin establishing their lives here in Maine,” said Papy Bongibo, President of the Congolese Community of Maine.
The City is working with a need to find housing for at least 150 people by the August deadline as its previous overflow operations at the Salvation Army and Warming Center can only accommodate 110 people. City staff is working hard with Maine Housing and other community partners to locate available housing options so that people do not have to return to the former overflow operations. The Salvation Army & Warming Center spaces are not able to be used 24/7.
So far, seven families from the Family Shelter and the Expo have been moved into rental units in the midcoast area. The City is working with community partners to ensure wrap-around services are available for families. Additionally, the Greater Portland Council of Governments continues to work on establishing a host family program with CIEE and other partners in order to facilitate the families who have expressed interest in serving as hosts. GPCOG expects to have this program up and running within the week.
The City has raised approximately $815,000 in donations as part of a fundraising campaign to assist with the expense of providing shelter/housing assistance and basic human necessities for asylum seekers. The City Council’s Finance Committee will make a recommendation on appropriation of these funds at its July 25 meeting with full Council discussion expected at the August 12 City Council meeting. Currently, the City has begun expending the $200,000 that was appropriated for the Portland Community Support Fund as part of the FY20 budget. City staff will be recommending to the Council that it be able to use a portion of the donated money to recoup some of the costs associated with running the 24/7 operation at the Expo as these costs are above anything that was budgeted. City staff also plan to request that a portion of funds be used to support the non-profit organizations that help provide wrap-around services.
To donate, people can text the word EXPO to 91999 or visit www.portlandmaine.gov/donate.
Asylum Seekers at the Expo Shelter
The latest physical count of those at the Expo as of Wednesday, July 17 is 239 people. The total number of people who have completed intake since June 9 is 350.