Kimangu Nzenza Pitagor of Angola (right) holds his daughter Victoria, 2, while telling his story to reporters at an emergency shelter inside the Portland Expo building in this June 19, 2019, file photo. A fellow Angola, named Alphonse (left) smiles.

Portland officials said they’re struggling to house many of the newly arrived families seeking asylum because some families have refused housing options outside Portland.

City staff shared those concerns at a council workshop on Tuesday evening. The issue comes as a deadline to relocate asylum seekers from the Portland Expo approaches.

Because of contractual obligations, the expo will no longer be able to serve as a temporary shelter after Aug. 15.

Kristen Dow, Portland’s director of health and human services, said it’s not clear why some families have declined housing in towns such as Brunswick, but she said part of the concern is about being too far from Portland.

“I would say it’s really frustrating and upsetting for staff to work this hard to house these families. To have them turn down, over and over and over again. They’re kind of turning to me, saying, ‘What do we do?’ I guess I’m turning to you now, saying, ‘What do we do?’” she said.

Staff asked for guidance from city councilors about how to deal with individuals who refuse housing options. According to officials, current policy states that if an individual refuses suitable housing, they’ll be asked to leave a shelter. But they said they have been hearing mixed messages from city leaders.

By the end of the meeting, city councilors reiterated support for that policy. But they urged staff to make sure families understand what resources and supports are available in other communities and what their options are if they decline housing offers.

“That’s what we have committed to do as a city. We can’t commit to find someone housing, and they turn it down. And we find them more housing, and they turn them down. And we find them more housing. We can’t do that. We don’t have the resources for that. So I do support the current city policy that is in place,” City Councilor Belinda Ray said.

The city said it’s housed 38 families so far in towns including Brunswick, Bath, Yarmouth and Buxton. Regional officials also have launched a “host home” program to house families temporarily.

This article appears through a media partnership with Maine Public.