On Wednesday, Portland officials held a second closed-door meeting to discuss their frustrations after spending three months in the Portland Expo emergency shelter, according to WGME.
The temporary shelter at the Portland Expo is set to close on August 16 in order to give cleaning crews enough time to prepare the space for events that are scheduled to be held there beginning in early September.
City leaders say there are options which they are hoping will come together in the next few weeks, although nothing is definite just yet.
Asylum-seekers say they’re anxious over the looming deadline, but they’re also holding out hope.
The city now has just five weeks to find 80 families new places to live.
“Nothing’s changed in terms of that deadline,” Portland City Manager Danielle West told WGME. “But obviously, we’re all working very hard to make sure that we can find the resources and the housing that the people need here.”
Also discussed during the meeting were asylum seekers’ complaints regarding their living conditions at the Expo, as well as the food provided to them.
“The meeting went well today,” Portland HHS Director Kristen Dow said in an interview with WGME. “They said they had definitely seen some improvements in things that they had requested improvements on. We’re still working to get culturally preferred food.”
According to WGME, West is awaiting a response from Gov. Janet Mills (D) regarding the relocation of asylum seekers to a college campus in Unity.
“We’re waiting to hear back what she thinks about the proposal, and maybe what next steps could be,” West told WGME. “I think that we need a variety of resources from around the region and the state to address this.”
According to WGME, MaineHousing does not have the funds to move the asylum seekers currently residing at the Portland Expo to the Unity campus.
Wednesday’s meeting comes after city officials agreed to meet with asylum seekers in response to their protest outside of the Portland Expo in late June.
On the day of the protest, the mayor, the city manager and the director of Health and Human Services met with asylum seekers inside the Expo for about an hour and a half to discuss their living conditions, according to WMTW.
After this initial meeting, Dow spoke publicly on the asylum seekers’ complaints regarding the conditions inside the Expo, as well as the food being provided to them.
“We have three meals a day that are brought in. Our food systems here in the Greater Portland area are stressed, they’re strained, and they would like some more culturally preferred food to be brought in,” Dow said.
“We have been working and we’ll continue to work with the Maine Immigrants’ Rights Coalition and other organizations to try to get some more culturally preferred food,” she said.
“When I think that this past winter when people were sleeping in chairs in the overflow space at the emergency shelter, this is a much better environment,” Dow said.
Additionally, West spoke to asylum seekers’ concerns regarding housing provisions after the Expo shelter closes in August.
“We were happy to hear from them, they expressed all of their concerns, we listened, we took it in,” West said.
“I do think there’s some things we need to address,” West said. “Some greater needs exist for housing, which I know everybody is aware of, it’s a need that’s around the State of Maine, we recognize that, we’re continuing to work with the state and [trying] to find solutions to that.”
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