Breaking News
More () »

Portland plan to build shelter for asylum seekers looks for new location

City staff told NEWS CENTER Maine that Portland would no longer pursue the 280-bed location at Blueberry Road.

PORTLAND, Maine — Staff with the city of Portland and a developer are looking for a new location to house hundreds of asylum seekers after calling off further work on a potential site on Blueberry Road.

The site provided a glimmer of hope for the more than 1,300 asylum seekers who have come to Portland since Jan. 1, 2023. Those asylum seekers have arrived in a city where shelters are at capacity nearly every night.

The developer told NEWS CENTER Maine he does not have an update on a new location. A Portland spokesperson said they are hopeful the developer will find a new location.

In March, when the city's Homeless Services Center opened, it became full almost instantly: 70 to 75 percent of the people living at the HSC are unhoused asylum seekers.

"It would absolutely take pressure off him, and it would immediately open up 140 or so beds, Kristen Dow, the city's health and human services director, said. "Specialty shelters definitely exist in our in our state. That is not something that's unique. If we can have a shelter that is really tailored to meeting the needs of asylum seekers and helping them get established in the country and more of a resettlement facility, then absolutely, that is something that would be beneficial for the asylum seekers but also would then alleviate some space at the HSC for people maybe who are unhoused."

Dow said the city is not looking to open a permanent shelter. Instead, they plan to help a nonprofit get the shelter up and running and pass along the operation of it to the nonprofit. 

The state has pledged $4 million in grant money to the Blueberry Road location. MaineHousing, which administers that grant money, still plans to keep the money available, a spokesperson wrote in an e-mail.

"If they can identify an alternative location for the use of this grant, MaineHousing will remain as flexible as possible in order to make it work, given the need for shelter space is so great currently. We are not involved in any of the negotiations between property owners, the city and/or the center," spokesperson Scott Thistle wrote.

The city plans to close an emergency shelter at the Portland Expo in August. It currently houses asylum-seeking families: 301 people in total.

The federal government prohibits asylum seekers from working for a minimum of six months after entering the country while Customs agents process their immigration paperwork, but the process often takes closer to 18 to 24 months. That means asylum seekers cannot make an income to use on housing for almost two years after arriving in the U.S.

Before You Leave, Check This Out