The city of Portland is taking steps to disperse nearly $1 million in private donations it received to care for hundreds of asylum seekers who arrived unexpectedly last summer.

The money was raised in response to nearly 450 asylum-seekers from Africa, who had crossed into the U.S. at the southern border and boarded buses to come to Maine’s largest city. Many said they came because the city is known as a welcoming, safe place with a growing immigrant community.

City officials declared an emergency and opened the Portland Expo as a temporary shelter. That shelter cost the city $400,000 to operate from June 9 to Aug. 15, according to the city.

City Communications Director Jessica Grondin said it’s still not clear what percentage of the private donations will be distributed to community groups.

“It’s still sort of in flux,” Grondin said. “It’s definitely going to depend on what expenses we have and what we see for applications. This will give us a good sense about what need is out there.”

The city is still waiting to see how much it will receive from the state General Assistance program to cover costs associated with housing, feeding and providing other basic necessities to families. Gov. Janet Mills expanded eligibility for the state’s safety net program to cover more asylum-seekers.


Meanwhile, the city is now seeing a minor surge in asylum seekers, although not as large.

Grondin said 14 families totaling 50 people have arrived since Friday. So far, the families have been sheltered in city-owned facilities – a warming center at the family shelter and the city’s general assistance office – without the city having to activate its overflow spaces at either the Salvation Army or the YMCA of Southern Maine gymnasiums

In response to the unexpected influx last summer, the city received nearly $850,000 from the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Emergency Food and Shelter National Board Program. However, Grondin said that money is intended to cover the city’s costs of assisting asylum seekers from January to the end of June, and could not be used to reimburse the city for costs associated with the Expo.

Grondin said the city modeled its application for disbursement of community funds after federal applications for FEMA money. Community organizations will need to document their costs, she said.

Community groups interested in applying for a disbursement must email with the organization’s name and contact person, the city said in a news release. The city will then send an application. The city will update its website with frequently asked questions.

Applications will be reviewed on a rolling basis and disbursements could begin sometime in January, the city said.

“Although our community partners came to the aid of asylum seekers with no expectation of being reimbursed for costs incurred, on behalf of the City Council, I’m pleased to announce a funding opportunity for nonprofit entities who assisted during this influx,” said City Manager Jon Jennings in a written statement. “This funding opportunity has been made possible by the generosity of more than 4,000 donors.”

Kristen Dow, the city’s director of Health and Human Services, thanked the community for its support.

“We know there’s a need in the community and so we want to assist our partners who helped in this effort,” Dow said in a statement. “We remain grateful for the outpouring of support from around the state and nation. Without the commitment and assistance from our community partners our emergency effort to aid asylum seekers would not have been as successful as it was.”

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