By: Toby Willamson and Grace Murphy
On May 5, the city of Portland announced it could no longer guarantee housing or other services for newly arrived asylum seekers. According to the city, it no longer had either available space in the shelters and hotels they had contracted with, nor staff capacity, to take on the housing of more arrivals. As of May 5, there were 1,134 people in city-provided shelters. These included hundreds of single adults, unaccompanied minors, and 324 families. And Portland’s announcement has not stopped the flow of new arrivals: 89 new families – 305 individuals – had arrived as of early June.
Housing and wraparound services are both desperately needed. With the city no longer overseeing the housing of new arrivals, nonprofit organizations such as MIRC, ProsperityME, Action for Life, Maine Association for New Americans (MANA), and Hope Acts, churches, and individuals have tried to address the needs of the asylum seekers. For a few weeks, an emergency shelter at South Portland’s Eastpoint Church housed 40-50 individuals; however, that ended June 9.
MIRC has developed a referral system (similar to one used to respond to COVID-19) to keep track of services needed to support new arrivals. The system is similar to the one developed to respond to COVID-19. Our summer interns Alex, Grace, Kendra, and Adelaide have been helping with the referrals. And MIRC is working with Portland-area organizations with expertise
in various fields. For example, we are coordinating legal workshops that are led by the Immigrant Legal Advocacy Project (ILAP) and Maine Law Refugee and Human Rights Clinic. The Angolan and Congolese communities of Maine are providing cultural brokering and interpretation. MIRC is working on creating a volunteer-run clinic at Howard Johnson hotel in South Portland with Maine-based healthcare professionals staffing the clinic.
On the advocacy front, MIRC continues to advocate for stronger federal and statewide coordination to alleviate this burgeoning humanitarian crisis.