During a special public meeting Tuesday, the South Portland City Council approved an agreement to extend the temporary transitional housing of migrants at the Howard Johnson Hotel for an additional 12 months.
Hotels were being used as temporary housing for the city’s homeless population since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, but as the pandemic came to a close, federal and state funding dried up.
At its peak, over 1,000 homeless migrants and some Mainers were being sheltered in hotels off the Maine Mall Road in South Portland.
As of June 21, 2023, six hotels were still renting 128 rooms that provided shelter to 367 adults and children.
In April, the City Council imposed a June 30 deadline for all hotels in the city to cease acting as de facto shelters.
Earlier this month, migrants had reached a deal with the owner of the Howard Johnson Hotel to extend their stay until July 31, a deal that the city was not involved in.
After Tuesday’s agreement however, all “unhoused people” who currently remain in the six South Portland hotels will be moved to Howard Johnson, and will be allowed to stay until June 30, 2024.
The agreement was originally proposed to the City earlier this month, and aims to provide shelter and support services to the 367 “asylum-seeking individuals,” 165 of whom are children, to remain in South Portland hotels.
The City Council will have further discussions about not bringing fines or enforcement actions against the hotels for guests being transferred to the Howard Johnson throughout July.
Prior to this agreement, these individuals had no other immediately available housing options, and would be evicted after June 30.
Highlights of the agreement include:
- The State will pay for the costs to house these families/individuals and will also pay for Catholic Charities to provide support services;
- Any General Assistance funds sought by the hotel guests for items such as food, diapers, etc., will be reimbursed 100 percent by the State up to a $65,000 cap;
- The State will set aside $135,000 to reimburse the City for unpaid ambulance calls and to hire a temporary health specialist, if needed;
- No new families or individuals will be allowed to be placed at Howard Johnson, and when any guest leaves the hotel after finding other housing, neither the State nor the hotel can backfill their room with other asylum seekers;
- Howard Johnson is required to notify their guests monthly about the June 30, 2024 deadline and remind them that they must find other housing arrangements by that date.
“By approving this agreement, we are preventing hundreds of people, including 165 children, from being on the streets with nowhere to go come July 1,” said South Portland Mayor Kate Lewis. “We are also ensuring that the State provides the financial and social support necessary as they transition to more stable housing over the next year.”
The Fiscal Year 2024 School Budget includes funds for serving the school-aged hotel guests, and no additional requests for funding are expected from the South Portland School Department as a result of this agreement, according to the city’s Wednesday press release.
“As South Portland hotels wind down their shelter operations, this agreement between the City and MaineHousing provides a 12-month safety net for the unhoused individuals and families who have not yet been able to secure housing to do so,” said City Manager Scott Morelli.
“Because the State of Maine is covering costs for unhoused at Howard Johnson for the duration of the agreement, South Portland taxpayers will not be impacted by increased GA demand after June 30,” Morelli said.
“Thanks to this agreement, we also avoid the scenario where the hundreds in South Portland hotels who have yet to find housing are living on the streets as of July 1—something we never hoped to see happen,” he said.
Morelli expressed his appreciation to the Governor’s Office and State Legislature for “stepping up to provide this funding,” and said he “looks forward to working with the various stakeholders as all unhoused transition to alternative living arrangements prior to next year’s deadline.”
“The City will be keeping close tabs on the progress to make sure that we’re not in the same position next summer, as Council has made clear that this is a one-year deal,” he added.
As a result of new South Portland city ordinances that went into effect in April, organizations interested in establishing a homeless shelter in South Portland now have a pathway to do so.