Following the City’s update yesterday on its efforts to transition the asylum seekers at the Portland Expo to temporary and long-term housing opportunities, Governor Mills today announced that Maine DHHS is pursuing changes to the eligibility rules for the General Assistance program.
“On behalf of the City Council, we are extremely grateful to Governor Mills and her staff for the work they have done to review the GA eligibility requirements and apply them in accordance with the intent of the 2015 law,” said City Manager Jon Jennings. “The language developed by DHHS and the Governor's office means that all individuals currently at the Family Shelter and the Expo will be covered by General Assistance. This means that our staff will now have a greater ability to find available housing opportunities so families can transition out of the Expo and our Family Shelter.”
Jennings continued, “These families are here legally, they are highly skilled and trained, and they are ready to make a contribution to their new community. Cities and towns in Maine would be short-sighted to not view this as an opportunity to strengthen Maine’s economy and bolster its workforce.”
City staff will continue to work with the families residing at the Expo and Family Shelter to find temporary and long-term housing solutions as the Expo can no longer be used after August 15. This includes working with those who have offered up rental units, Maine Housing, and a host-family program that GPCOG will unveil next week.
The City is working with a need to find housing for at least 150 people by the August deadline as its previous overflow operations at the Salvation Army and Warming Center can only accommodate 110 people. City staff is working hard to locate available housing options so that people do not have to return to the former overflow operations. The Salvation Army & Warming Center spaces are not able to be used 24/7.
Since June 9, the City has been able to move 20 families from the Expo into the Family Shelter and other area rental units. It is anticipated that two more families will move out of the Expo on Friday, July 19. The City is working with community partners to ensure wrap-around services are available for families whenever they are placed in new units.
The City has raised approximately $820,000 in donations as part of a fundraising campaign to assist with the expense of providing shelter/housing assistance and basic human necessities for asylum seekers. The City Council’s Finance Committee will make a recommendation on appropriation of these funds at its July 25 meeting with full Council discussion expected at the August 12 City Council meeting. Currently, the City has begun expending the $200,000 that was appropriated for the Portland Community Support Fund as part of the FY20 budget. City staff will be recommending to the Council that it be able to use a portion of the donated money to recoup some of the costs associated with running the 24/7 operation at the Expo as these costs are above anything that was budgeted. City staff also plan to request that a portion of funds be used to support the non-profit organizations that have helped to provide wrap-around services. It is anticipated that the meeting will include a discussion on the future of the Community Support Fund in relation to the new GA rule change.
The City also continues to track its expenses for any potential FEMA reimbursement funding for communities that have experienced in influx in asylum seekers and assisted them. Congress recently passed, and the President signed into law, emergency legislation that appropriates $30 million. The City plans to apply for reimbursement funding once FEMA issues application information.
To donate, people can text the word EXPO to 91999 or visit www.portlandmaine.gov/donate.
Asylum Seekers at the Expo Shelter
The latest physical count of those at the Expo as of Thursday, July 18 is 223 people. The total number of people who have completed intake since June 9 is 350.