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Portland moves some asylum seekers to Old Orchard Beach, as affordable housing remains rare

A multistory building with a blue sign that reads "Chestnut Street Family Services".
Ari Snider
Maine Public
Portland's emergency housing resources — including the Chestnut Street family shelter, pictured here — haven't been able to keep up with demand amid a statewide shortage of affordable housing.

Amid a severe shortage of affordable housing, the city of Portland is housing several dozen asylum seekers in Old Orchard Beach. City officials said the arrangement with multi-unit rental properties is a major improvement over the families’ previous living situations — but it is still only temporary.

The families had previously been among the hundreds of asylum-seekers living in hotels in the Portland area while searching for permanent housing.

Portland’s resettlement coordinator, Chelsea Hoskins, said the Old Orchard Beach properties offer basic amenities — such as a working kitchen — that many hotel rooms lack.

"So one thing that families were so pleased about about Old Orchard, despite it being a little bit out of the metropolitan area of Portland, is the fact that they were able to cook homemade meals for their family. And they're very excited about that,” she said.

Hoskins said the city will be able to use the properties until some time in April, and hopes to find permanent housing for as many families as possible before then.

Hoskins added that Portland has seen a steady increase in asylum seekers arriving in the city over the last year. In October, 39 newly-arrived families came to the city’s general assistance office in need of housing.

Martha Stein, executive director of the nonprofit group Hope Acts, has seen this trend firsthand.

“The numbers of people that are coming here are just unprecedented for us,” said Stein, whose work includes helping asylum seekers find housing. Stein said the numbers are on par with the summer of 2019, when Portland opened the Expo building as a temporary shelter.

Still, Stein said the problem is not the number of people arriving, but rather the severe lack of affordable housing in Portland and across the state.

"It's really important for people to remember that immigrants are the present and future workforce of Maine,” she said. “The real question should be, how can we set them up so they can be successful?”