Maine opened its doors to hundreds of asylum seekers.

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) – Hundreds of asylum seekers crowded Portland’s basketball court Monday as Maine’s largest city paid off months of immigration-constrained housing.

It’s the second time in recent years that the Portland Exposition Building — the century-old red-brick gym that housed Portland’s minor league basketball team and hosted everyone from President John F. Kennedy to the Beach Boys — is being redone. Refugees. The stage floor is covered with cots as families carry sacks of clothes, food and personal belongings.

Communities around the country have been talking. The growing number of asylum seekersAnd Pending rule changes It means more are coming. The Covid-19 pandemic law, which has halted asylum-seeking rights for many, expires in May.

It was a big job to make the Portland temporary shelter ready for the asylum seekers As of 2011 In 2019, he was not arrogantThe city spread within 24 hours, said Christine Dow, Portland’s director of health and human services.

But the local situation is very serious.

More than 1,000 asylum seekers have entered Portland this year, and the city is sheltering about 1,200 people a night. The city doesn’t have much space to use, including a new emergency shelter and exhibit building that will fill 208 beds on opening night last month, Dow said.

Many of the asylum seekers are from Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo, Dow said.

Luvumbu Osvaldo from Angola waited Monday to enter the shelter with a baby bag. Osvaldo says he is grateful for his safe haven.

“It’s great to be here,” Osvaldo said. “Of course.”

The temporary shelter, which will be open until August, can accommodate up to 300 people per night, providing a bed, three meals a day, health care checks and vaccinations.

“Once it’s full, the city has no room to open another,” Dow said. “This is a temporary emergency shelter. There are many small shelters around serving this population and we are grateful.

The city wants to show the truth about the services that the newcomers can provide, Dow hopes that another solution will be found between now and August. For example, MaineHousing, an independent state housing authority, has provided funding to some local agencies for a 280-bed facility for asylum seekers.

Papi Bongibo, a leader of the city’s Congolese community, said reopening the Portland Exposition Building shelter is a good short-term solution, but finding permanent housing for asylum seekers will be more challenging because apartments in the Portland area are scarce and often expensive. .

“The problem is housing. I understand that you cannot build a house in a day,” he said. But if you look at rents right now, you can’t rent in Portland.


Associated Press writer David Sharp contributed to this story.

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