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City prepares to shelter asylum seekers in Portland Expo

According to Portland's Interim City Manager, nearly 900 asylum seekers have arrived in Portland since the beginning of 2023.

PORTLAND, Maine — Portland is continuing to see an influx of asylum seekers throughout the start of 2023. According to Interim City Manager Danielle West, Portland has seen nearly 900 asylum seekers arrive since the beginning of the year. 

Now the city is turning to a familiar location, the Portland Expo, to use as an emergency shelter.

"As you may remember in 2019, we had to pull that together almost overnight. It was very quick. So we've had a little more lead time and ability to be able to think about all of the necessary things we have to provide at this site," West said. 

West is presenting the proposed plan at a special city council meeting Monday night. West says the city has currently been utilizing a number of various spaces as emergency shelters, including the gymnasium of a Portland Public School. West added that space will only be available until April 10, requiring the city to find alternative locations to keep new Mainers sheltered.

"The need is very great, so getting into that space is necessary," West said. "We're a welcoming place, and a place they feel comfortable to come to, so we're continuing to try to provide those services." 

In addition to shelters operated by the city, the Maine Immigrants' Rights Coalition (MIRC) has also been running a shelter at the Salvation Army in Portland with space for nearly 80 people. 

"Being able to provide an area where everyone can come together is going to be able to provide a lot of resources that we are kind of trying to patch together through our networks right now," Ruben Torres with MIRC said. 

Torres says he is hopeful that this new shelter at the Expo can have similar success to 2019, and provide necessary resources to new Mainers right where they are. 

"People are in a centralized location where providers can be at a location that can help give people the resources they need, and find out what resources they need," Torres said. 

The plan to utilize the Portland Expo as an emergency shelter was shared by West in a memo Friday. In that memo, West laid out additional shelter options that the city is considering. 

MaineHousing awarded $4 million to the Center for Regional Prosperity to establish a new 280-bed shelter in Portland. According to West's memo, the proposed location is on Blueberry Road in Portland and would be developed by Developers Collaborative, which just completed Portland's Homeless Services Center. 

The Center for Regional Prosperity is the non-profit arm of the Greater Portland Council of Governments (GPCOG). Officials with GPCOG and Developers Collaborative did not immediately respond to interview requests Monday. 

According to West, once the shelter on Blueberry Road is completed, asylum seekers staying at the Expo would be relocated there. West also anticipates announcing requests for volunteers and donations in the near future to help support operations at the Expo. 

"There will be a need for everyone to get involved like we did in 2019. And we'll be looking for as much help as we can," West said. 

West says it's expected asylum seekers could begin moving into the Expo by April 10, however, if the Maine Celtics, which play their games in the Expo, are eliminated from the playoffs, move-in could happen as early as April 5.

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