Portland is asking for help as the growing number of asylum seekers continues to stretch resources.
The city is providing shelter each night to about 1,150 people — more than twice the number from 2019 when the Portland Expo became an emergency shelter amid a sudden influx of more than 400 asylum seekers.
"We’ve had to scramble to deal with the resettlement issue, and it’s not something one municipality the size of Portland should be addressing for the entire state of Maine," interim City Manager Danielle West told the Portland Press Herald.
Most of the asylum seekers are coming from African countries such as Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo, and the sheer number of people needing shelter has become a "crisis situation," Director of Health and Human Services Kristen Dow told the City Council.
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The city is currently using 10 hotels across five municipalities in addition to its two shelters to house people.
The city could spend $30 million this fiscal year on emergency shelter costs -– far outstripping the budgeted $2.7 million — but federal and state reimbursements will offset the difference, Director of Finance Brendan O’Connell estimated.
Meanwhile, asylum seekers continue to arrive. In 2021, the city took in 307 families totaling 1,006 people, which is more than double the 138 families and 487 people who arrived in 2020.
The city is coordinating with neighboring communities, and keeping in touch with the governor’s office and congressional delegation.
The governor’s office has been communicating regularly with city officials, said Lindsay Crete, spokesperson for Democratic Gov. Janet Mills. In the long term, she said, immigration reform is needed to expedite both the review of asylum applications and work authorization.
Republican Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said Congress could change the law that prohibits asylum seekers from working for an extended period and look for a better way of processing asylum claims.
"We are facing a national problem, requiring a national solution," Collins said in a statement.