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Portland opens new shelter for asylum seekers

A new shelter for asylum seekers opened this week in Portland's Riverton neighborhood, with a capacity for 179 adults.
Ari Snider
/
Maine Public
A new shelter for asylum seekers opened this week in Portland's Riverton neighborhood, with a capacity for 179 adults.

On Thursday, Portland moved 120 asylum seekers from the Homeless Services Center to a new shelter, also in the Riverton neighborhood.

Officials say the goal is to provide services tailored to the needs of new immigrants and free up space at other shelters.

The shelter has capacity for nearly 60 additional clients, and acting program manager Mike Guthrie said efforts are underway to identify homeless asylum seekers to fill those beds.

"So we have a lot of people that have been couchsurfing or sleeping outside," he said. "And those are the people that we're going to be focused on getting into shelter and out of the elements."

Residents will have onsite access to legal services and help finding permanent housing.

One of the new shelter residents is Davi Gregorio, a former musician and taxi driver from Luanda, the capital city of Angola. He said his alignment with the opposition party in Angola put his life in danger, forcing him to flee to the U.S. and claim asylum.

He said he appreciates that the food at the new shelter — provided by the Maine Immigrants Rights Coalition — is familiar.

"It's a little better here," he said, in Portuguese. "Because we have food from our African cultures."

Gregorio added that he recently received his work permit, and is applying for jobs with cleaning services and warehouses.

More than 1,600 asylum seekers have arrived in Portland this year. But the city stopped counting new arrivals in June when its shelters and contracted hotels reached capacity.