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Portland asks for others to step up, no longer guarantees shelter upon arrival for asylum seekers

City DHHS Director Kristen Dow sent a mass email warning agencies at the southern U.S. border.

PORTLAND, Maine — Portland city leadership has reached its breaking point in attempting to shelter people seeking asylum.

City DHHS Director Kristen Dow sent a mass email to agencies in the federal government and at the southern U.S. border on Wednesday, saying if they send any more families to Portland, they can't be guaranteed a place to stay.

"I am writing this email to alert you to the fact that, as of the date of this email, there is no further shelter OR hotel capacity in Portland, Maine. We have been overcapacity in our shelter for quite some time and have now reached the point where the hotels we have been utilizing are also full," Dow wrote.

Interim City Manager Danielle West said Portland currently houses 300 asylum-seeking families, totaling 1,200 people. After taking in 100 more in just the first week of May, she said they can't shelter anyone else right now.

"I've been with the city for quite a while. It's the most difficult decision I've had to make," West said during a Friday interview. "I'm not sure we've been taken advantage of, but, I think, when people are looking for a place to come, they do come to us because of the assistance that we have available. And we're one of the few places in the country that does have that available to them."

West and city spokesperson Jessica Grondin told NEWS CENTER Maine that the city had been publicly sharing concerns with inter-state and federal agencies for months.

"We were hoping that by being very transparent with the volume that we're receiving, that we wouldn't have to get to this point, that we wouldn't have to turn anyone away," Grondin said during a Thursday interview.

Mufalo Chitam, executive director of the Maine Immigrant's Rights Coalition, works to settle and feed those seeking asylum in Maine. She said she's disappointed across the board.

"It's a state failure," Chitam asserted during a Thursday interview. "We're saying, 'Because Portland did this….' No, Portland is Maine," she continued. "If Portland fails, Maine fails, so we have all failed."

The city has relied on partnerships with hotels to handle some of the needs. Now, West said, with tourist season upon the region, that's not a reliable option, and they need help from neighboring cities and all levels of government.

"We are really asking — in making this decision — for help, help from our surrounding communities and neighbors, help from the state and federal government," she said. "And [we're] really saying that Portland can’t do any more right now." 

She added, "We’ve done a lot so far, and we need others to step up."

When asked for comment, a spokesperson for Gov. Janet Mills said the state shares Portland's concerns, will keep working to support the city, and they support the message to the federal government and organizations at the southern border. 

Additionally, as part of the state's supplemental budget passed two weeks ago, $22 million will go toward a new Emergency Housing Relief Fund.

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