PORTLAND, Maine — The asylum seekers who have been staying at the Portland Expo are now gone.
The city has closed the temporary shelter and will turn it back over to the Red Claws basketball team.
Portland officials were forced to open the Expo as an emergency shelter back in June when hundreds of asylum seekers came from the southern border to Portland.
Since then, 448 asylum seekers have stayed there.
Some moved on to other states, but many others -- about 200 of them -- are still in Maine, spread out in whatever housing could be found in Portland, Brunswick, Bath, Lewiston, and Scarborough.
An additional 42 families are now staying in host homes in the greater Portland area.
By the end of Thursday, 26 asylum seekers were sent to one of the city's two overflow shelters. Those shelters, the Salvation Army on Cumberland Ave. and the warming center at the Family Shelter on Chestnut St., are only open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. That means the asylum seekers will have to be out of the building for twelve hours during the day.
The asylum seekers, most of them coming from the Congo or Angola to Maine, came here in search of a better life.
Jr. Lopema Dimanja, his wife and three children left the Portland Expo Thursday morning, where they had spent the summer. With their belongings piled into the back of a pickup truck, they were driven to Brunswick to a place they can call home.
"The first things (I'm) going to do is relax, take a deep breath and the good thing again because (I'm) in the United States -- (I'm) happy to be secure," Dimanja said through an interpreter.
Dimanja and his family came to the United States from the Democratic Republic of Congo. They reached the southern border in Texas and chose to come to Maine.
The interpreter added, "He thanks the local Government of Maine -- they support a lot."
That support came in many way for these asylum seekers, including a Home Host Program created by the Greater Portland Council of Governments -- who in collaboration with the immigrant and faith communities, were able to match 42 asylum seeking families with host families in the Greater Portland area.
Kristina Egan, the Executive Director of GPCOG, says they have been so excited and gratified seeing the generosity that has come from Mainers.
"We feel there is a spirit of compassion and empathy and the host families are learning from asylum seeker families and vice versa," said Egan. "And I feel like the Host Home Program, in particular, creates this immediate integration of our new neighbors in their communities. It's been really beautiful."
Help has also come in the form of donations as well, more than 900-thousand dollars right now.
"Priority will be giving to asylum seekers finding housing, but we certainly think with the amount of money we raised, we'll be able to cover the costs of the emergency shelter at the Expo," Jessica Grondin, Portland's Communications Director, told NEWS CENTER Maine.
The exact cost of shelter expenses is not known, but as of late July, it was around $200,000.
The emergency shelter at the Expo provided food, medical care and a place to stay for hundreds of asylum seekers who wanted out of their respective countries.
Jr. Dimanja says his family's journey was long, and it's not quite finished yet.
"He wants his kids to go to school to learn a better education, and he wants to get a job -- that would be fantastic" the interpreter said.
The Host Homes Program is no longer looking for hosts. They received 107 applications, which is more than they need.
But their challenge now is drivers. They need volunteers to help these families get to appointments and the grocery store. For anyone interested in being a volunteer driver you can visit Host-Homes.com.