Maine City Says Volume of Asylum Seekers Now 'Crisis Situation,' Scrambling for Resources

Portland, Maine's largest city, is seeing an influx of asylum seekers and struggling to find places to house all of them.

Portland is currently giving overnight shelter to about 1,149 people, Kristen Dow, director of the city's Health and Human Services division, told the Portland Press Herald. Jessica Grondin, director of communications for the City of Portland, told Newsweek there have been 41 new families just since the beginning of January.

According to Grondin, most of the asylum seekers come from the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Angola.

"What we're asking for right now is help from our state and federal partners," Grondin said, citing rules that say asylum seekers are not able to work for a certain time period, meaning they have to rely on assistance for longer than they would like.

"Certainly having some flexibility or changes to the federal rules would be helpful," she said.

Aside from city-run shelters, hotels and apartment buildings in the area are also trying to help with the flood of people.

In a separate report, the Herald said a Quality Inn & Suites had transformed into a shelter after the city's family shelter began running out of space. As of January 14, the hotel was housing about 400 asylum seekers, over half of them children.

Parts of the hotel have also been converted to further help the asylum seekers, with the gym being turned into a room for cooking and English classes, and the continental breakfast area now being a place for the South Portland Food Cupboard and Wayside Food Programs to provide food, according to the Herald.

Maine Public reported small apartments in Old Orchard Beach, a small town near Portland, were opened up to some asylum seekers, which for many of them felt like an upgrade from the hotel rooms, which usually did not have kitchens. However, this arrangement is temporary, with the residents needing to find permanent housing by the end of April.

Chelsea Hoskins, refugee resettlement coordinator for the city of Portland, told Maine Public while some have already found permanent housing, it is unlikely all of them will by the deadline.

According to another Maine Public report, Project HOME, run by the Quality Housing Coalition, is also helping asylum seekers to find apartments and promising to cover up to $2,000 of potential broken lease or damage fees. It also provides the tenant with a housing mentor to help communicate with their landlord.

Victoria Morales, executive director of the QHC, said in an email to Newsweek Maine is going through "the worst housing crisis we have ever seen."

"At QHC, we partner with landlords and community service organizations to support hundreds of individuals, children and families experiencing homelessness and housing insecurity, but there are thousands more in need of stable and affordable homes and the housing assistance needed to pay the rent," she said.

Portland, Maine, skyline
Portland, Maine, is experiencing a large influx of asylum seekers, largely from places like the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Angola. Above, the downtown Portland, Maine, skyline. Stock Image/Getty Images