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Portland re-opens Expo building as shelter needs persist

All 300 available beds were expected to be filled by the end of opening day, according to city DHHS Director Kristen Dow.

PORTLAND, Maine — Vans began pulling up to the Portland Expo building Monday afternoon, unloading families seeking asylum, along with luggage and small bags.

Most escaped to Maine from African nations, said Kristen Dow, director of Portland's Department of Health & Human Services.

Around 270 people were to be transported to the Expo from the city's family shelter, which had been utilizing a public school gym for overnight overflow. Dow explained everyone in that group was given a wristband to identify them. 

However, reporters watched the first waves of families come in. Some had wristbands, and others did not. City workers were able to verify who some of the families were and get them wristbands at the door. 

When asked about the confusion, Dow said families who were not part of this group being transferred by the city should go to the family shelter at 54 Chestnut Street, while single people seeking shelter should go to the Prevention & Diversion Center at 39 Forest Ave.

Dow told reporters there were 300 total spaces available, and she expected the final 30 to be filled by day's end.

The facility will offer meals prepared and delivered by the nonprofit Preble Street. However, a Preble Street spokesperson told NEWS CENTER Maine the Expo's opening would not alleviate any of its capacity. Capacity also remained full at the Salvation Army, which opened its gym over the winter to 77 asylum seekers — all families.

"The need is so great and so massive right now, that all the emergency shelters that are open need to remain open," said Armida Harper, a major with the Salvation Army.

Back across town, there is an eviction date on the Expo.

The facility is home to the Boston Celtics G-League affiliate Maine Celtics, and they will need it back in the fall. 

With an August exit date looming, a building on Blueberry Road has been slated for conversion into a 280-bed shelter. With 77 people at the Salvation Army and 300 at the Expo, the math doesn't add up, especially since city officials announced 1,000 people have come seeking asylum so far this year.

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