PORTLAND, Maine — Leaders with the City of Portland said Monday they will start meeting next week to set a date for when to close the emergency shelter for 300 asylum seekers at the Portland Expo.
City Health and Human Services Director Kristen Dow said the shelter will close in August due to contractual obligations in September. She said the official date has not yet been set, but that staff will start planning to de-commission the shelter so it can be cleaned and prepared for the coming events it will host.
The Expo is currently sheltering families seeking safety from violence in their home countries.
Dow said the city is working with partners, including the state, to open another emergency shelter, but has not finalized a location yet. Most recently, the city was looking into a site on Blueberry Road to become a long-term shelter for asylum seekers.
Dow said in the meantime, city staff is placing families in housing as they can, or moving them to city-run family shelters. She said that with shelters already at capacity, newly arriving asylum seekers could struggle to find a place to stay.
"I am fearful for people who come because our shelters are full, and I know our other shelters in the area are full as well. And since we are at capacity, we are putting people in self-directed housing searches, which, really, in a lot of cases, people are coming to homelessness," Dow said. "That is really scary. I just want to make sure that people know what they are arriving to."
She said Portland alone is sheltering 1,200 people per night on average in the city-run facilities, meaning even more people do not have a place to live.
City data show 1,366 asylum seekers have come to Portland alone since January 1, 2023.
The census of the Family Shelter and the Expo combined was 419 Monday night. Of the 419, only a family of two were non asylum seeking. At the hotel in Saco, there are 84 households comprising 324 people. At the hotel in Portland, 128 households are sheltering there.
The city opened the Portland Expo as an emergency shelter on April 10. Seven days later, it was at capacity with 301 people staying there. In addition, the city opened its new Homeless Services Center on March 22. City staff said roughly 70 percent of the census there are asylum seekers, equivalent to about 145 people. City staff is pointing any newly arriving asylum seekers to a self-directed housing search.
The city currently operates the HSC, the Salvation Army, a hotel as a shelter in Saco, a hotel as a shelter in Portland, and a family shelter.
It also places people in several shelters operated by Preble Street.