The South Portland City Council renewed the operating licenses Tuesday for four hotels serving as temporary homeless shelters, but placed conditions on three of them.

The conditions are designed to address a skyrocketing number of 911 calls that are coming from the four hotels, a volume that is stressing the city’s emergency services, the police chief says. Conditions include having the hotels provide 24/7 on-site security as well as a full-time coordinator to assist in translation and with medical, food, transportation and other needs.

The council decided not to impose any conditions on Quality Inn’s license renewal, noting that it has already been providing services and making efforts to mitigate the number of 911 calls.

“The folks at this hotel have put a plan in place, are following through on that plan, and are seeing the results of that,” said Councilor Jocelyn Leighton. “It sounds like you’re already doing the things that we’re asking.”

The Quality Inn, Days Inn, Comfort Inn and Howard Johnson have been housing an overflow of asylum-seekers and homeless people from Portland since 2020. Since then, the number of 911 calls coming from the hotels has skyrocketed and prompted the council to review the license renewals, which are usually handled by the city clerk.

Comfort Inn and Days Inn are sheltering an estimated 280 people. Police received 546 911 calls from the Comfort Inn between April 2021 and March 2022; 383 911 calls came from Days Inn during the same time period.


Other than 103 calls to assist the fire department and emergency medical services at Comfort Inn and 44 follow-ups, that hotel’s most frequent 911 calls are hang-ups. While that might not sound serious, Police Chief Dan Ahern told the council Tuesday that the hang-up calls contribute to a mounting toll on his officers.

“We have to respond to those 911 calls – every single one – to verify that they have in fact misused the phone,” Ahern said. “Our staff is stretched thin as it is. These officers are going back there call after call after call. They’re getting frustrated and tired, and that’s the last thing we want, frustrated and tired police officers.”

There have been 34 calls for people refusing to leave the Comfort Inn, 22 calls for criminal trespass, 20 for theft, and 14 each for both drug overdoses and domestic disputes.

While fewer calls have come from the Days Inn, they are of similar nature. The hotel has been the source of 26 calls for people refusing to leave the establishment, 19 hang-ups, 10 calls for criminal trespass, 10 for theft and nine for drug overdoses.

Councilor Susan Henderson asked if the hotel residents are receiving any sort of follow-up services, such as rehab treatment after drug overdoses.

“I think it’s worth having the public record say that,” Henderson said. “That there is no care system for those people.”


Ahern and Fire Chief James Wilson shook their heads, indicating there weren’t any.

“We’ve treated and Narcan’d a number of patients, sometimes multiple times in the same day,” Wilson said, noting they can’t force people to go to the hospital or into treatment.

“The system’s broke, as we know,” he said.

Howard Johnson and Quality Inn primarily have been housing asylum-seeking families. It’s estimated that 198 families are staying at the two hotels.

Howard Johnson has been the source of 163 emergency calls between April 2021 and March of this year, while the Quality Inn has seen 206 calls in that span.

Calls to 911 from those two hotels largely fall into the categories of calls from the other two. At Howard Johnson, there were 32 hang-ups, eight calls for people refusing to leave, four for drug overdoses and four for theft. The Quality Inn was the source of 22 calls for refusing to leave, six for harassment, six for thefts and four for assaults.


One contributor to the increase in calls could be that 911 is one of the first things immigrants are told to use in an emergency, South Portland resident Baba Ly told the council.

“I’m an immigrant myself. I came to the country, just like these asylum-seekers, many years ago to seek a better life for my family,” Ly said. “The first day, when I came to America, what I was told: ‘If you have a problem or you feel in danger all you need to know is 911.’

“My assumption is 911 is a safe, lifesaver number that’s (for) anyone, regardless their citizenship, regardless their economic status, regardless where they are,” he said.

At the beginning of the lengthy meeting Tuesday night, all four hotels were facing four conditions in order to keep their licenses. However, councilors and hotel representatives argued that some of those conditions were too vague. One that would have required hotels to get the 911 call numbers “to a level deemed satisfactory” by the police and fire chiefs was struck from all four license renewals.

Owner New Gen announced earlier this year that the Days Inn and Comfort Inn would stop sheltering unhoused people as of June. The council said a condition of their licenses is that they assist in transitioning their unhoused guests out of the hotels.

New Gen also owns the Howard Johnson; Quality Inn is owned by NEH 7.


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