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Portland says it cannot guarantee housing to newly arrived asylum seekers

A teenage girl wearing a pink sweatshirt and headphones packs plastic containers of food.
Ari Snider
Merdie, a 16 year-old from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, helps distribute food at the Howard Johnson hotel in South Portland earlier this year. Portland says the hotels it contracts with to house asylum seekers have reached capacity.

The city of Portland announced this week that it will no longer be able to guarantee shelter for newly arrived asylum seekers, as the existing emergency housing options have reached capacity.

Portland is currently housing close to 1,200 asylum seekers, mostly in motels across southern Maine.

But those hotels are now full, after the city received over 100 families in April, and about 30 families in the first few days of May.

And with tourist season right around the corner, interim city manager Danielle West said she doesn’t think the city will be able to find more space.

"Being at capacity is difficult, because trying to find additional spaces is almost impossible. And also the cost of that space, given the tourist season, is off the charts," she said.

West says the city will continue providing general assistance housing vouchers to new arrivals. But those individuals will have to find housing on their own.

Mufalo Chitam, executive director of the Maine Immigrants Rights Coalition, said new arrivals are now turning to her organization for housing assistance, a service it has not historically provided.

"We now have to take on responsibilities, or services, that we as an organization are not structured to do, overnight," she said.

Chitam said the current situation is largely the result of Maine not having comprehensive statewide resettlement systems for asylum seekers.