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South Portland adopts new rules for hotels serving as emergency shelter

The outside of a hotel at night with a neon sign that reads Howard Johnson on the wall.
Ari Snider
The Howard Johnson motel, pictured here in February, is one of the South Portland hotels serving as emergency shelter.

South Portland is implementing new rules for four hotels currently serving as overflow emergency housing. City officials say the rules are aimed at improving conditions at the hotels and relieving the burden placed on public safety services.

The new rules vary slightly between the four hotels, and include measures such as contracting onsite private security and providing guests with contact information for non-emergency service providers.

The hotels are serving as temporary shelter for two distinct groups: unhoused individuals and families who have arrived in Maine from other countries to seek asylum.

Speaking at a city council hearing on Tuesday, South Portland police chief Daniel Ahern said his department has responded to a high number of calls involving issues at the hotels.

"An unfortunate reality has been that the city has seen a dramatic increase in complaints related to public health, safety, and welfare," he said.

Ahern says the increase in complaints has placed an unsustainable burden on the city’s emergency services.

Emilia Franco, vice president of the Angolan Community of Maine, also spoke at the city council hearing.

Franco, who provides case management services to asylum seekers at one of the South Portland hotels, said she wants to know more about why asylum seekers are calling 911.

"When they [are] calling what they say, what they [are] asking for. How we can inform them about which kind of call they should be making," Franco said.

Franco said communication is key to helping recently-arrived immigrants adapt to new systems and cultures.