City of Portland says refuge for asylum seekers not guaranteed

The City of Portland has notified federal immigration authorities and community partners that it has “no more accommodation or hotel capacity” to receive or house asylum seekers from overseas. The email sent Thursday morning from the city’s Director of Health and Human Services, Kristen Dow, bluntly advises recipients, “If your organization sends a family to Portland, Maine, they no longer have the guaranteed to be accommodated upon arrival in our refuge.” Management agency, office of Congresswoman Chellie Pingree, and Portland City Council and Mayor. The note was also forwarded to community and state partners who helped settle asylum seekers. OR hotel capacity in Portland, Maine. We have exceeded our refuge capacity for a while and have now reached the point where the hotels we use are also full. “Please be aware that due to our capacity limitations, if your organization sends a family to Portland, Maine, they are no longer guaranteed shelter upon arrival at our shelter. Also, as our staff is quite scattered, there is no guarantee that we will be able to assist people in their search for emergency housing. I ask you all to share this information widely within your organizations and with families with you work.” Commenting on the letter from the city’s health director to immigration authorities and community partners, Portland City Manager Danielle West told WMTW, “It’s definitely to say that if you send such people we won’t have the capacity to be able to help them due to our staff as well as our inability to get access to hotel rooms so yeah that’s to say “we are at full capacity, please send ez them in other communities”. West said the city is currently housing 1,771 people – more than 1,200 asylum seekers and more than 500 local homeless people in its municipal shelters and hotel rooms in Portland, South Portland, Westbrook, Yarmouth, Freeport and Auburn – six cities in three counties. West said, “Tourist season is upon us, so hotel rooms are pretty scarce.” She added the number of foster families dwindling due to the lingering pandemic. Portland Expo or the YMCA are not available. Towns like Old Orchard Beach, which once offered hotel rooms, no longer do. The state reimburses Portland for 70% of its cost of lodging asylum seekers, while FEMA covers 30%. “So we have the money in the budget,” West said, even as the city waits for refunds. “Looking more into next year, we really see the problems because the FEMA money will disappear.”

The City of Portland has notified federal immigration officials and community partners that it has “no more accommodations or hotel capacity” to receive or house asylum seekers from overseas.

The email sent Thursday morning from the city’s Director of Health and Human Services, Kristen Dow, bluntly advises recipients: “If your organization sends a family to Portland, Maine, they no longer have the guarantee of being accommodated upon arrival in our refuge”.

The email was sent to immigration officials at the U.S. southern border, U.S. Customs & Border Patrol and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the office of Congresswoman Chellie Pingree, as well than to the city council and the mayor of Portland.

The note was also forwarded to community and state partners who helped settle asylum seekers.

The email from Dow reads:

“I am writing this email to alert you that as of the date of this email, there is no more shelter OR hotel capacity in Portland, Maine. We have exceeded capacity from our refuge for a while and have now reached the point where the hotels we use are also full.

Please be aware that due to our capacity limitations, if your organization sends a family to Portland, Maine, they are no longer guaranteed accommodation upon arrival at our shelter. Also, as our staff is quite dispersed, there is no guarantee that we will be able to help people in their search for emergency accommodation. I ask you all to share this information widely within your organizations and with the families you work with.”

Commenting on the letter from the city’s health director to immigration officials and community partners, Portland City Manager Danielle West told WMTW, “It’s definitely to say that if you send such people, we won’t have the capacity to be able to help them due to our staffing as well as our inability to get access to hotel rooms, so yeah, that’s to say, ‘we’re at full capacity, please send them to other communities”.

West said the city is currently housing 1,771 people – more than 1,200 asylum seekers and more than 500 local homeless people in its municipal shelters and hotel rooms in Portland, South Portland, Westbrook, Yarmouth, Freeport and Auburn – six cities in three counties.

West said, “Tourist season is upon us, so hotel rooms are pretty scarce.”

She added the number of foster families due to the ongoing pandemic.

Previous locations used to house asylum seekers since 2019, such as the Portland Expo or the YMCA, are not available.

Towns like Old Orchard Beach that once offered hotel rooms no longer do.

The state reimburses Portland for 70% of its cost of lodging asylum seekers, while FEMA covers 30%.

“So we have the money in the budget,” West said, although the city is waiting for refunds. “Looking more into next year, we really see the problems because the FEMA money will disappear.”

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