The “asylum seekers” that have been living in the Portland Expo were transported north this morning to their new accommodations.
City officials in Portland are partnering with unnamed hotels in Freeport and Lewiston to house the remaining 191 asylum seekers from Portland Expo. The City signed a long-term contract with the hotel in Freeport and secured a shorter-term agreement with the hotel in Lewiston.
Jessica Grondin — Director of Communications and Digital Services for the City of Portland — told the Maine Wire that officials expect to utilize the Freeport hotel for up to a year and plan to make use of the secondary hotel in Lewiston for “a couple of months.”
This morning, the City used school buses and Parks, Recreation, and Facilities vans to transport asylum seekers from the Expo to their new accommodations in the greater-Portland area.
After the buses and vans had departed from the Expo, Portland Health and Human Services Director Kristen Dow spoke to reporters.
According to Dow, the first round of asylum seekers seen leaving the Expo this morning were all headed to to the Lewiston hotel. Later today, the City will transport families of asylum seekers to the hotel in Freeport.
Shortly after the buses and vans departed the area, workers were seen bringing a number of plastic storage tubs, large garbage bags, and other assorted items out to the sidewalk in front of the Expo.
Dow stated these were the belongings of the asylum seekers who are destined for the hotel in Lewiston. She explained that later today staff would be loading everything into a U-Haul and delivering it to the hotel “in a timely fashion.”
When asked about the specific names of the hotels where the asylum seekers would be staying, Dow said that the City will not be disclosing that information “for the safety of the families” and individuals who will be living there, noting that Portland generally avoids releasing the exact location of a “shelter.”
Grondin told the Maine Wire that the City of Portland and their “community partners” will continue to provide “support services” to those who have been placed in these hotels.
The cost of housing these asylum seekers in this manner is expected to be around $550,000 in total and will be paid for out of the City’s General Assistance Fund.
“I think they want out of a mass shelter situation. That is what we have heard from them. So, we have not heard anyone to be displeased,” Dow told WGME earlier this week.
Grondin told the Maine Wire that in the long term, they “expect to be able to either find [these asylum seekers] housing placements or move them into our existing family shelter units as those become available.”
Dow told reporters this morning that while the City is still “hopeful” that the HOME Share program announced earlier this summer will be an effective means by which to provide housing for asylum seekers, the City needs more time in order to properly match asylum seekers with property owners.
She also mentioned that there may be other units “coming online” in the near future — potentially as early as September or October — that the City will be able use to house these asylum seekers.
Dow said that Portland “just needed some more time” and is “thankful for these hotel owners and the towns” for working with the City in the meantime to house the asylum seekers from the Expo, noting that the move is “rather last minute.”
Earlier this summer, City officials met behind closed doors with the asylum seekers from the Expo to discuss their concerns about the living conditions in the Expo, as well as the uncertainty of their post-Expo housing arrangements.
Hotel housing will only be made available to those asylum seekers that are currently living in the Portland Expo, according to Grondin. Any “newer arriving” asylum seekers will be signed up for General Assistance and “put on a self-directed housing search,” as the city is currently “at capacity.”
Photos and videos courtesy of Maine Wire reporter Edward Tomic.