More shelter, hotel capacity for asylum seekers

PORTLAND, Maine (WMTW) – The City of Portland has notified federal immigration authorities and community partners that it has “no more accommodations or hotel capacity” to receive or house asylum seekers from the stranger.

The email sent Thursday morning from the city’s Director of Health and Human Services, Kristen Dow, bluntly advises recipients: “If your organization sends a family to Portland, Maine, they no longer have the guarantee of being accommodated upon arrival in our refuge”.

The email was sent to immigration officials at the U.S. southern border, U.S. Customs & Border Patrol and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the office of Congresswoman Chellie Pingree, as well than to the city council and the mayor of Portland.

The note was also forwarded to community and state partners who helped settle asylum seekers.

The email from Dow reads:

“I am writing this email to alert you that as of the date of this email, there is no more shelter OR hotel capacity in Portland, Maine. We have exceeded capacity from our refuge for a while and have now reached the point where the hotels we use are also full.

Please be aware that due to our capacity limitations, if your organization sends a family to Portland, Maine, they are no longer guaranteed accommodation upon arrival at our shelter. Also, as our staff is quite dispersed, there is no guarantee that we will be able to help people in their search for emergency accommodation. I ask all of you to share this information widely within your organizations and with the families you work with.

Commenting on the letter from the city’s health director to immigration officials and community partners, Acting Portland City Manager Danielle West said, “It’s certainly to say that if you send such people, we won’t have the capacity to be able to help them due to our staff as well as our inability to get access to hotel rooms, so yes, that’s to say, “We’re at capacity, please send them in other communities.

West said the city currently houses 1,771 people – more than 1,200 asylum seekers and more than 500 local homeless people in its municipal shelters and in hotel rooms in Portland, South Portland, Westbrook, Yarmouth, Freeport and Auburn – six cities in three counties.

West said, “Tourist season is upon us, so hotel rooms are pretty scarce.”

She added the number of foster families due to the ongoing pandemic.

Previous locations used to house asylum seekers since 2019, such as the Portland Expo or the YMCA, are not available.

Towns like Old Orchard Beach that once offered hotel rooms no longer do.

The state reimburses Portland for 70% of its cost of lodging asylum seekers, while FEMA covers 30%.

“So we have the money in the budget,” West said, although the city is waiting for refunds. “Looking more into next year, we really see the problems because the FEMA money will disappear.”

Mufalo Chitam, executive director of the Maine Immigrant Rights Coalition, who received the email, said her group was not bringing people to Maine.

Chitam said in an interview, “People come here, because they know someone, and we’ve never asked anyone to come to Portland as an organization.. But people are connected, because of the service they received here, because of their families. Some have family roots here, others only have people they know, speak their language and culture.

Chitam continued, “So, no, we can’t tell anyone to stop coming here.”

Whether Portland will no longer welcome and assist asylum seekers, Chitam said, “Is there any other city that will step in to do that — that’s a question.”

Chitam said she was disappointed with the condition.

She said, “People are suffering because of the lack of what we asked for from the beginning. We asked for state coordination.

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Sandy A. Greer