PORTLAND, MAINE — The deadline to relocate hundreds of Congolese and Angolan asylum seekers from emergency shelters in the Portland Exposition Building was met Thursday.
After a nine-week stay at the Expo gymnasium, the city of Portland found housing units for more than 200 migrants in Bath, Brunswick, Lewiston, Scarborough and Portland. As of the morning of Aug. 15, 78 people remained in the building, with plans for additional families to move out during the day. When the Expo closed Thursday afternoon, 26 people were transitioned into the city’s previously used overflow spaces.
Portland has processed the intake of 448 migrants since June 9.
City spokeswoman Jessica Grondin said the remaining families who were not housed by Thursday’s deadline did not exceed the capacity of the overflow shelters and that none of the migrants will be on the street. The city’s overflow shelters include the “warming space” attached to the family shelter on Chestnut Street and the Salvation Army space.
To assist their efforts, the city hired two new housing counselors and two new financial eligibility specialists to help find housing for the families it shelters. It will continue to work with local organizations to find permanent housing while the asylum seekers are in the shelters.
“Our work is not done yet,” said Kristen Dow, the city’s director of health and human services.
The migrant families — who are here legally seeking asylum — first began to arrive in Portland from San Antonio with little forewarning the first week of June. In an effort to reduce dependence on taxpayer money, the city has relied on social service organizations for volunteer services. Those organizations could stand to be remunerated by a federal grant that was made available July 31 by the Emergency Food and Shelter National Board Program, a division of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Working with United Way, the city has a pending application for the FEMA funds, which were allocated as part of a $4.6 billion emergency immigration package that passed Congress in June.
The city has also received roughly $1 million in private donations.
“First and foremost, I want to thank our amazing and dedicated staff who have worked around the clock to successfully manage this emergency situation,” City Manager Jon Jennings said. “I also want to thank our community partners for the support we received operationally at the Expo and in transitioning these families into housing, and to the public at large for their willingness to donate, volunteer and provide housing.”
Gov. Janet Mills announced in July that she would allow all asylum seekers taking “reasonable good faith steps” to complete the immigration process to qualify for state and municipal aid, a reversal of the policy set by former Gov. Paul LePage.
The Expo building on Park Avenue is the home of the Maine Red Claws, the G League basketball team recently acquired by the Boston Celtics, which is about to begin its training camp later this month. It’s located next to Hadlock Field, home of the Portland Sea Dogs.
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