SOUTH PORTLAND, Maine — Hotels in Greater Portland and beyond have opened their doors to people experiencing homelessness throughout the pandemic, a decision largely supported by emergency federal funds.
That lifeline will end for 290 people in southern Maine by June 1.
New Gen Hospitality Management LLC, which owns the Days Inn and Comfort Inn in South Portland, alerted city officials it would not renew its contract with MaineHousing to shelter people after May 31.
New Gen Manager Suresh Gali made the announcement at a meeting on Friday.
As first reported by the Portland Press Herald, city leaders invited 1,700 nearby residents and business owners to meet virtually with them and Gali, and air comments or concerns about the arrangement.
NEWS CENTER Maine was not present for the invite-only meeting, but City Manager Scott Morelli told us on Monday that a few dozen people provided comment. Of those comments, he said many were concerned over a rise in criminal activity and emergency calls.
"We have, since the onset of the pandemic, seen a huge increase for calls for service due to the motels," Morelli told NEWS CENTER Maine.
Morelli shared his slideshow presentation from the meeting in which he cited a 2,083 percent increase in emergency calls made from the Comfort Inn in 2021, compared to averages from 2017-19.
Over that same span, Morelli cited a 380 percent increase at the Days Inn.
Morelli said his city would offer to play a role in settling the displaced residents.
"Obviously, there needs to be a transition plan and we’re happy to play a part in that however we can," he said. "Because you can’t just, come June first, open up the doors and turn people onto the streets and say, 'Good luck.'"
MaineHousing secured federal grants to place the residents in the hotels. Its website describes the organization as an "independent authority created by the Maine State Legislature in 1969 to address problems of unsafe, unsuitable, overcrowded, and unaffordable housing."
Daniel Brennon is MaineHousing's director. He said it was clear that hotel placement might not be the best option for some, but he wishes New Gen had renewed its contract.
"Hotels have been a huge part of the strategy as we look to find people to safely distance, and people experiencing homelessness have a place to be," he said.
Mufalo Chitam runs the Maine Immigrant Rights Coalition, which provides hot meals for asylum seekers at the nearby Howard Johnson. That hotel is also owned by New Gen and will remain open. She said the coalition also serves daily meals to 50 people at one of the two hotels in question. She said the Howard Johnson primarily shelters families, while single people shelter at the hotels ending their contract.
Chitam's long-term goal is to find permanent, affordable homes for immigrants and those seeking asylum, but for now she's working quickly to meet the community's immediate housing needs.
She said in addition to their belongings being uprooted, a move to a new hotel will also upend services and support networks that have just been established for many who are brand new to Maine and the United States.
"Wherever their new motel is, you have to now figure out how to move whatever you created to fit into that," she explained. "And, so, it’s like you need to get into places where you really refine your support system."