SOUTH PORTLAND, Maine — Dozens of people seeking asylum arrive in Portland each week despite the city's announcement in May that it could no longer guarantee housing for those who presented.
One option they are currently using is hotels acting as temporary shelters in South Portland. The city council voted on Aug. 2 to allow the hotels to keep their licenses amid concerns from South Portland's fire and police chiefs that an increase in 911 calls was spreading crews thin.
One of those conditions affects both the Days Inn and Comfort Inn, and the two hotels will no longer take in people on any type of assistance program starting Jan. 1, 2023. That includes asylum seekers, according to South Portland City Manager Scott Morelli.
"Where are these families going to sleep this weekend or next week?" Tobin Williamson, advocacy manager for the Maine Immigrants' Rights Coalition, said. "It's very unpredictable. Sometimes there will only be a couple of families and few individuals arrive, and then with no rhyme or reason, the next week we'll see a couple dozen. It's tough to allocate resources when you don't know when will be the busy week or the slow week."
The conditions on the hotels also cite a March 1, 2023 deadline -- the expected opening date of Portland's Riverside Street Homeless Services Center -- after which hotels will pay a penalty of up to $500 per guest per night still staying in the hotels' rooms. The hotels can ask the agencies that placed the people there to reimburse them.
"It's certainly going to be an issue we want to raise awareness to and encourage people to proactively think through it so that we're not scrambling at the last moment to try to find a safe place for someone to go," Andrew Bove, vice president of social work for Preble Street, said.
People seeking asylum can still go to the Howard Johnson and Quality Inn, but Williamson says for every room that becomes vacant, dozens of people seeking asylum are waiting to take shelter there. Though, he acknowledged that hotels are not the ideal setup for families because most lack a kitchen and other household basics.
He says families and community groups are having to call around to find places for them to stay.
In a statement to NEWS CENTER Maine, Morelli said it should not be up to a hotel to determine whether or not someone has shelter.
"We need reforms to how the system operates, including a state-run program to help families and individuals with resettlement across Maine," Morelli wrote in an email.
NEWS CENTER Maine reached out to representatives from Maine's Governor’s Office of Policy Innovation and the Future and will update this story when we receive a response and learn more.
Previously, Greg Payne, senior advisor for housing policy with the Governor's Office of Policy Innovation and the Future, told NEWS CENTER Maine the state was offering up to $2.5 million to help with housing these populations sheltering in hotels. He said that money cannot be used to pay the penalty fees for people who stay past the March 1, 2023 deadline.
"If we have another surge, another week with 80 new arrivals, that would be a challenge to try to figure out where to place them," Williamson said. "This is not a problem or a challenge that's unique to Maine's immigrant community. It's just become more pronounced as more people have arrived."