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Portland officials say end of rental assistance program could worsen asylum-seeker housing crisis

A group of people board a small white bus on the side of the road.
Ari Snider
/
Maine Public
A group of asylum seekers, primarily from Angola and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, wait to board a bus outside a motel in Yarmouth over the summer. Portland city officials say they are struggling to meet the housing, health care, and transportation needs of asylum-seeking families, and are calling on the state to help.

City officials in Portland said they are struggling to meet the health care, housing, and transportation needs of asylum-seeking families in the region, a situation they fear will be exacerbated by the impending end of the pandemic-era Emergency Rental Assistance program.

The funding for that program, which supports more than 8,500 households throughout the state, is set to run out by the end of the month.

Speaking at a city council meeting on Monday, Portland’s interim city manager Danielle West said the end of that program could hinder the city’s ability to support asylum seekers.

"And so that will significantly impact this population of people, and also in our ways in which we have been housing them. And our organizations that have been helping us," West said.

Kristen Dow, the city’s health and human services director, says some asylum-seeking families living in motels beyond Portland have already received eviction notices for Dec. 1.

Dow said she is not aware of clients living in hotels in Portland who have received eviction notices. She said that's partly because the city is using General Assistance funds to bridge the gap.

But Dow said the city and its partner organizations can’t handle the situation on their own.

At Monday's council meeting, Dow, West, and several Portland city councilors called on the state to provide coordinated housing and healthcare support to asylum seekers.

"It's time to have a broad, coordinated effort so that these people get the help that they need," Dow said.