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Portland Officials Scramble As Asylum Seekers Refuse Housing Offers Outside City

Portland officials say they’re struggling to house many of the newly arrived families seeking asylum because some families have refused housing options outside of Portland.

City staff shared those concerns at a council workshop on Tuesday evening. The issue comes as a deadline to relocate asylum seekers from the Portland Expo approaches.

Because of contractual obligations, the expo will no longer be able to serve as a temporary shelter after Aug. 15.

Kristen Dow, Portland’s director of health and human services, says it’s not clear why some families have declined housing in towns like Brunswick, but she says part of the concern is about being too far from Portland.

“I would say it’s really frustrating and upsetting for staff to work this hard to house these families. To have them turn down, over and over and over again. They’re kind of turning to me, saying, ‘What do we do?’ I guess I’m turning to you now, saying, ‘What do we do?’” she says.

Staff asked for guidance from city councilors about how to deal with individuals who refuse housing options. According to officials, current policy states that if an individual refuses suitable housing, they’ll be asked to leave a shelter. But they say they’ve been hearing mixed messages from city leaders.

By the end of the meeting, city councilors reiterated support for that policy. But they urged staff to make sure families understand what resources and supports are available in other communities and what their options are if they decline housing offers.

“That’s what we have committed to do as a city. We can’t commit to find someone housing, and they turn it down. And we find them more housing, and they turn them down. And we find them more housing. We can’t do that. We don’t have the resources for that. So I do support the current city policy that is in place,” says City Councilor Belinda Ray.

The city says it’s housed 38 families so far in towns including Brunswick, Bath, Yarmouth and Buxton. Regional officials have also launched a “host home” program to house families temporarily.