On May 20, an informal coalition of 79 organizations sent a letter to Governor Mills, Maine’s Congressional delegation, and local officials calling for a coordinated, state-wide effort to provide housing and coordinated services for newly arriving asylum seekers. The letter also calls for the creation of infrastructure to help asylum seekers start new lives in Maine, and notes that Maine is in dire need of workforce development. The letter follows a May 5 announcement by the City of Portland that it will no longer guarantee shelter for the individuals and families that continue to arrive in the city. Most asylum seekers arriving in Maine are from Africa.

The letter asks for both immediate and longer term meaningful action from the State of Maine, City of Portland, other municipalities in Maine. In addition, the letter urges the Congressional delegation to: provide assistance to the State in securing federal resources to serve newly arriving asylum seekers; vote to uphold U.S. asylum law; support policies that would get asylum seekers work authorization faster, including issuing one-year humanitarian parole with simultaneous work authorization to all asylum seekers at the border.

Key asks for the State of Maine are to immediately open and staff emergency shelter sites; convene an emergency task force to coordinate services; provide resources to Portland and other municipalities that are providing emergency housing through General Assistance or the Emergency Rental Assistance program. As of May 16, more than 35 asylum seeking families, or 120 individuals, had arrived in Maine and faced homelessness. Over the course of the pandemic, thousands of individuals have arrived in Portland, looking for safety from war and persecution in their countries of origin. Until May 5, the City of Portland took responsibility for sheltering the new arrivals. Because of the pandemic, they housed the families in hotels in various municipalities, instead of in traditional shelters.

Key asks for municipalities in Maine are to reach out to the City of Portland to offer assistance with new arrivals and to coordinate asylum seekers coming to other municipalities in Maine; set up welcoming task forces; request statewide coordination.