The lack of housing in Portland has been an issue for some time, and as asylum seekers continue to come to Maine, it is becoming an even bigger issue. The mayor of Portland, Kate Snyder, talked about the issue at a city council meeting Monday. Snyder said city services and local nonprofit groups have been pushed to their limits with the shelters at capacity, not enough staff to run the shelters, and the recent stretches of very cold weather. Snyder said they are wondering how they are going to make sure people don't freeze to death overnight every time the temperatures drop.
On Monday night, Danielle West, the interim city manager in Portland, also spoke at the city council meeting and said that the city houses more than 1000 people in emergency shelters every night. On average, the city needs to find housing for 80 new people each week. Portland has taken in 550 asylum seekers since January. The asylum seekers are coming from central Africa, with thousands of asylum seekers coming to Portland since 2019.
The city has reached capacity at the Oxford Street shelter with 150 asylum seekers staying there. The Family Shelter is also at capacity, with over 100 people each night. The city says they have had to turn to using a school gym to house 133 of the asylum seekers, who stay overnight and are moved out at 7 a.m. each morning. Catholic Charities is also housing 300 asylum seekers at a hotel in Saco. The Maine Immigrants' Rights Coalition received $266,000 in state funding, which they will use to open an overnight shelter that will house around 70 people, most of whom will be immigrants and asylum seekers.
West says the city really needs assistance, and if Congress could shorten the waiting period before asylum seekers are legally allowed to work, that would also help. LD 199 was recently introduced by Portland Democrat House Speaker Rachel Talbot Ross. This bill provides MaineCare program coverage for noncitizen residents of Maine who are 21 years of age or older with qualifying low incomes and who are ineligible for coverage under the federal Medicaid program due to their immigration status.
Back in May 2022, Portland's director of health and human services, Kristen Dow, had written in an email to organizations at the southern border, "I am writing this email to alert you to the fact that, as of the date of this email, there is no further shelter or hotel capacity in Portland, Maine. We have been over capacity in our shelter for quite some time and have now reached the point where the hotels we have been utilizing are also full. Please know that, as a result of our capacity limitations, if your organization sends a family to Portland, Maine, they are no longer guaranteed shelter upon their arrival at our shelter. Additionally, because our staff is spread quite thin, it is not guaranteed that we will be in a position to aid individuals in their search for emergency housing. I ask that you all share this information widely within your organizations and with families you are working with."
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