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 assist 449 asylum seekers, primarily from Angola and Democratic Republic of Congo, who arrived in Maine and were housed in the Portland Expo between June 12 and August 15. The arrivals had traveled for months – and in some cases years – to escape persecution in Africa. Almost all had children in tow.

On February 4, the city announced awards of more than $140,000 to 11 community partner organizations, as part of an initial round of funding drawn from the donations and intended to help reimburse organizations for significant expenses they incurred during the “Expo Summer.” Using FEMA eligibility guidelines, Brendan O’Connell, Portland’s Finance Director, reviewed the 13 applications for reimbursement the city had received. City Manager Jon Jennings made final decisions on the awards.

The following organizations received awards in the first round:

  • 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 donations are also being used to reimburse the city for the 24/7 emergency family shelter operation at the Portland Expo. The Expo shelter was the first time the city of Portland had run a 24/7 emergency family shelter operation.

Some nonprofits and immigrant-led organizations that stepped forward to help provide services for the new arrivals have not yet applied for reimbursement. Sources familiar with the organizations seen working at the EXPO on a daily basis throughout the summer suggest that a revised process for the second round of awards might elicit more applications, such as a tailor-made application, rather than the generic FEMA application; a point person to answer questions by telephone or appointment; and a reimbursement committee that is representative of the applicant pool. As of press time, no date had been announced for dispersal of the second round of awards. However, Jessica Grondin, Director of Communications and Digital Services of the City of Portland, confirmed that applications are accepted on a rolling basis.

Asylum seekers continue to arrive in Maine, in a trickle during some weeks and with a larger number of arrivals in others; almost all are families with children. Over 400 individuals have come to Portland since August 15, bringing to 857 the total number of arrivals since June 9, according to Grondin. “We expect the arrivals to continue,” she added. Federal law prevents asylum seekers from working to support themselves and their families for many months, so they are dependent on help from others. Immigrant-led organizations and nonprofits, along with individual donors, continue to try to fill gaps in services and support, investing large amounts of time and money in helping the new arrivals.

The City of Portland’s website reads: “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).” According to Grondin, “The first priority of the City remains ensuring the donated funds are used for shelter and basic necessities for asylum seekers, with second priority to reimburse community partners who have assisted in the effort.”
Organizations interested in receiving information on future reimbursement opportunities should email [email protected] with the name of the organization and a contact person.