None of the $919,000 that Mainers and other generous people donated to help provide for the hundreds of asylum seekers who arrived in Portland over the summer has yet been spent, according to Jon Jennings, City Manager for the City of Portland, Maine, reached by telephone October 18. But that is about to change.
Mr. Jennings said the city has been waiting “to make sure the General Assistance side of things is working,” because there is a lag time of several months for reimbursement from the state through General Assistance. The city also had waited to see if the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) would provide an award to help cover costs. All four members of Maine’s congressional delegation pressed for emergency funding from the federal government. On October 11, FEMA confirmed that Portland will receive $900,000.
Within a month, Mr. Jennings said on October 18, applications will be ready for community partners to seek reimbursement for their work during the summer. Applications will be sent to nonprofit partners who worked with the city to help guests at the Expo Building; funds will be disbursed on a rolling basis. Applications will be considered from organizations that incurred expenses after August 15. Mr. Jennings hopes all funds will be disbursed by January 1, 2020.
“The situation has been challenging, at best, but our city, neighbors, and nonprofits stepped up at a critical moment and created support,” Mr. Jennings said. “There’s only so much government can do. I am proud of the work our staff has done. They take pride in finding permanent housing solutions.”
Between mid-September and mid-October, the City moved 11 asylum-seeking families into permanent housing, according to Jessica Grondin, Director of Communications for the City of Portland. Four additional asylum-seeking families arrived in Portland in October, and four families have moved back to the family shelter from the host family homes where they had been living since the Expo Building closed on August 15.
Mufalo Chitam, Executive Director of the Maine Immigrants’ Rights Coalition (MIRC), confirmed that three families left Scarborough for Montreal, Québec (Canada), in early October. According to Christian Bisimwa, the families called with messages of thanks for all the organizations that helped them in Maine. They cited the uncertainty caused by the current administration’s policies toward asylum seekers as a major reason for their departure for Canada.
Photo | Tom Bell