The city of Portland has received more than $500,000 as of Monday, including a sizable gift from the family foundation of Stephen King, to help the hundreds of asylum seekers who have arrived in Portland in recent weeks.

City administrators received on Monday a $40,000 check from the Stephen and Tabitha King Foundation and a $22,000 donation from a Portland family, said city spokeswoman Jessica Grondin and Mayor Ethan Strimling.

“We appreciate the efforts of the good people of the city of Portland, and we wanted to be of assistance,” read a letter from King’s foundation administrator, Stephanie Leonard.

The $22,000 gift came from a Massachusetts-based charity, the Karina Foundation, on behalf of the Hewey family, who live in Libbytown. Hundreds of people so far have contributed to the city’s Community Support Fund, which is believed to be the only municipally funded and operated program that delivers direct financial assistance to noncitizens.

Stephen King Shane Leonard photo

“It’s a remarkable outpouring of support,” Strimling said in a phone interview. “Even for those of us who know the city of Portland is a welcoming place, this is just remarkable.”

The city is currently sheltering more than 600 people each night – about 400 recently arrived asylum seekers and about 200 homeless people at the city’s year-round shelter on Oxford Street.

At the Portland Expo, 287 people from about 70 families are sleeping on cots. Another 125 people from 42 families are housed at the Chestnut Street family shelter. And on Sunday night, 203 people slept at the city’s municipal homeless shelter, Grondin said.

The asylum seekers are primarily from Angola and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and are fleeing political, economic and military problems in their home countries. They mostly arrive on buses from the southern border. Most of the new arrivals are families who left their home countries and traveled through Central America and Mexico to present themselves at a port of entry, which is one of the legal pathways to request asylum status. Federal immigration officials cleared the migrants to travel on, while they pursue legal asylum status, with a notice to appear later in immigration court.

Filing a claim for asylum is a complex process and can stretch for months, even with the help of an experienced attorney. Asylum seekers are forbidden from working until at least six months after filing their asylum applications.

The Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram first reported in December about the increasing number of families from sub-Saharan Africa making the long and dangerous journey through Central America and Mexico to the southern U.S. border. Many of the migrants ask to be sent to Portland after learning about the support the city provides and because of the immigrant community that has taken root here.

The recent cash donations to the asylum seekers will be added to the $200,000 the city has planned to appropriate for the upcoming fiscal year beginning July 1 to replenish the Community Support Fund. Before any of the cash can be spent, the Portland City Council must authorize the appropriation, and discussion about that process is expected to begin in July, Grondin said.

The total cost of the emergency response the city has mounted has not yet been tallied, and paying for the emergency measures will likely to be among the first items the council takes up next month, Grondin said.

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