The City of Portland received generous contributions of over $900,000 from approximately 4,000 donors in Maine – and beyond – during the summer of 2019 to help provide assistance to upwards of 450 asylum seekers primarily from Angola and Democratic Republic of Congo who arrived in Maine beginning in June after traveling for months – and in some cases years – to escape persecution in Africa.

Numerous community organizations stepped forward to provide services for the new arrivals, and certain organizations invested huge amounts of time and money in an effort to ease the transition for Maine’s newest residents. Immigrant-led organizations have been at the forefront of those efforts, which continue into the present. Asylum seekers continue to arrive in Maine, with some weeks seeing a trickle, and others a larger number of arrivals, almost all families with children. 116 asylum seekers in 37 family groups arrived in Portland between December 22 and January 22, according to City records.

The City of Portland operated an emergency shelter at the Portland Expo between June 9 and August 15, processing intake for almost 450 people. During that time, the City was able to house more than 200 people with additional families being placed in host homes and others staying at the City’s Family Shelter until housing units could be found and arranged. The Expo shelter was the first time the City had run a 24/7 emergency family shelter operation.

Today the City announced awards of more than $140,000 to 11 community partner organizations as part of an initial round of funding intended to help reimburse those organizations for expenses they have incurred. Thirteen applications were received by the City. The City’s Finance Director reviewed applications using FEMA eligibility guidelines and the City Manager Jon Jennings made final decisions on the awards. The donations are also being used to reimburse the City.

The 11 organizations to receive awards in the first round include:

  • Catholic Charities of Maine ($5,675)

  • Greater Portland Health ($4,671)

  • Greater Portland Immigrant Welcome Center ($4,900)

  • Greater Portland Transit District – METRO ($6,075)

  • LearningWorks ($480)

  • Immigrant Legal Advocacy Project ($6,178)

  • Maine Emergency Management Agency – MEMA ($11,946)

  • Portland Public Schools ($15,108)

  • The Emergency Action Network – TEAN ($11,765)

  • Town of Brunswick ($70,000)

  • Wayside Food Programs ($5,000)

The City is still accepting applications on an on-going basis. According to the City of Portland’s website: Nonprofit organizations who assisted the City of Portland at the Expo Center during the influx of asylum seekers from mid-June 2019 through mid-September 2019 are eligible to submit an application for reimbursement. Eligible expenditures are divided into two categories. Primary (food and shelter) and Secondary (other). Organizations interested in receiving information on future reimbursement opportunities should send an email to [email protected], including the name of the organization and a contact person.

Resting in the Expo after a traumatic journey

Mufalo Chitam, Executive Director of Maine Immigrants’ Rights Coalition, who was on the ground at the Expo all summer and has been working to help the asylum seekers ever since Photo | Tom Bell


Papy Bongibo and Nsiona Nguizani, presidents of the Congolese and Angolan communities in Maine. Both men have played central roles in the effort to support the new arrivals.
Photo | Laura DeDoes

Mother and child in host family kitchen
Photo | Tom Bell