Housing plan needed for new arrivals 

By Tobin Williamson 

By early May, the city of Portland was providing temporary shelter to over 1,700 people per night, mostly asylum seekers. However, on May 5, Kristen Dow (Portland’s Director of Health and Human Services), issued a statement directed at federal officials and community organizations along the U.S./Mexican border: “As a result of our capacity limitations, if your organization sends a family to Portland, Maine, they are no longer guaranteed shelter upon their arrival to our shelter.” 

MIRC’s Executive Director Mufalo Chitam, speaking of asylum seekers and refugees, said, “People will still come, so when people get here, what happens?” Indeed, within 24 hours of the city’s statement that it was no longer able to provide housing assistance to newcomers, six more families had arrived. 

As of the end of May, about 40 people were being housed at the Eastpoint Christian Church on a week-by-week basis. Others are staying at the City of Portland Family Shelter or in assorted motel rooms, when available. But the state has no plan in place for housing families who arrive, and the issue of how to house people is not going away any time soon. With the lack of state and/or federal leadership, the burden for helping new arrivals falls on nonprofit community organizations and individuals. Structures and systems are not in place on a statewide level to handle this humanitarian crisis. 

Asylum seekers and refugees have a shared goal: to flee prosecution in their countries of origin and to find safety and security in their new location. In May, MIRC participated in the Refugee Council USA’s “Refugee Advocacy Days,” sharing social media posts and advocating with U.S. congressional staff and nembers for a more humanitarian, welcoming stance on immigration policy concerning refugees. 

Maine prides itself on being a welcoming state. The motto “Vacationland” is on license plates. Signs reading “The Way Life Should Be” is on signs at the state’s borders. But to live up to these words, our state’s officials must acknowledge the housing crisis that is occurring and undertake a coordinated, statewide effort to address it.