I have used the General Assistance program in the city of Portland on two separate occasions. The current system is understaffed, underfunded and overworked. And Mayor Ethan Strimling wants to add to the budget problem by extending the 24-month cap on General Assistance to asylum seekers (March 24).

What is the limit? Indefinite? Currently, very few participate in the workfare aspect of General Assistance because there are too many for the program. I’m not sure why – there’s always trash to pick up, parks to rake and streets to sweep. Work for it. I did. I chose to work in the Preble Street soup kitchen because I didn’t want a handout.

For General Assistance applicants who are not asylum seekers, we are asked about every possible asset we might have. Asylum seekers sit in the waiting room with iPhones, iPads and great clothes and drive good cars. This is not an equitable system.

I also spent time in the shelter system for six months. I don’t recall seeing one asylum seeker. The program helps them just for showing up.

I challenge those who are not familiar with the shelter system to spend just two days living in the system with no money and no phone, eating every meal at Preble Street, then having check-in at the Oxford Street shelter and sleeping on a 2-inch-thick mat. Oh, and let’s not forget, carrying all their worldly possessions constantly and hoping that nothing gets stolen.

The next day entails showing up to an understaffed General Assistance office with 200 others and being interrogated about assets that I don’t have but that asylum seekers are apparently allowed to possess.

I call on Mayor Ethan Strimling to fix it and accept the challenge.

Michael Tetreault