Adolfo Lucadji and his wife Carlota, holding their 1-year-old daughter Adriela, stand outside their hotel room at the Best Western in Freeport on Wednesday. The family was moved to the Freeport hotel because the Old Orchard Beach hotel where they were staying needed to make room for seasonal workers and summer tourists. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

OLD ORCHARD BEACH — On a rainy morning this week, staff from the city of Portland were busy packing suitcases and tote bags full of clothing, food and other belongings into a Department of Health and Human Services van parked outside the Beach Gardens Motel.

The street was deserted, with nearly every parking spot available – though that won’t be true for long. The beach is a popular summer destination, and the motel and others like it soon will be welcoming tourists.

Adolfo Lucadji carries bags of his family’s belongings from their room at the Beach Gardens hotel in Old Orchard Beach on Wednesday. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

That means that asylum seekers from African countries who have been staying at the Beach Gardens and the Beau Rivage Motel across the street will have to move out of the rooms where they’ve found refuge during the offseason.

“This isn’t a surprise for us,” said Mike Guthrie, program manager for the city of Portland’s Family Shelter, as he helped pack the van with the belongings of two families about to be relocated to another motel in Freeport.

The city has been using the motels for months to help house an influx of asylum seekers, but staff knew the arrangement would come to an end once the weather got warmer.

The move of about a dozen remaining families out of the two motels this week highlights the challenges the city faces as it continues to try to house record numbers of people in need of emergency shelter. The families having to move out also face challenges. In Old Orchard Beach, they had begun to accumulate belongings, get services and build contacts, but they now have to start over somewhere else as they hope to one day get permanent housing.


As of Wednesday, the city of Portland was providing shelter to more than 1,600 people each night, many in rooms spread out across southern Maine. Hotels and motels have filled a critical need because the city’s shelters do not have enough capacity.

Adolfo Lucadji unloads suitcases from a van at the Best Western hotel in Freeport on Wednesday. Lucadji, his wife and their two children, asylum seekers from Angola, were moved to the Freeport hotel from one in Old Orchard Beach so that one could make room for seasonal workers and summer tourists. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

“I do understand that it’s a high-tourism area and the summer months are really busy,” said Kristen Dow, Portland’s director of health and human services.

But her biggest concern isn’t other hotels and motels following the lead of the two in Old Orchard Beach. So far, that hasn’t happened.

The real fear is that the number of those needing shelter and services will continue to grow.

“It’s a larger capacity issue about new hotels wanting to come online,” Dow said. “New hotels might not want to or be able to shift to this model because of the tourism that will be coming in this summer.”



Winter is a slow season for the Beach Gardens Motel, which typically just keeps a few units open for traveling nurses.

Sean Nickless’ family owns and operates the motel. He said they got in touch with the city of Portland last fall after hearing a news report about the need for housing.

“Old Orchard is kind of a seasonal town, so that was part of it and then the other part is trying to help people who are looking for a better situation,” Nickless said. Throughout the winter they kept eight units filled with families, who would come and go as they were able to secure permanent housing or a spot at Portland’s Family Shelter.

“It was different having the building be full, but for the most part I’d say the families were very nice and appreciative,” Nickless said, even if it was hard to communicate since the families mostly spoke French and Portuguese, languages he doesn’t know.

“I’m not sure what situations they were getting away from or anything like that, but I’m glad they were able to seek refuge,” Nickless said.

Across the street, the Beau Rivage was hosting a dozen families at any given time. Sarah Alexander, the motel’s general manager, is French Canadian and speaks fluent French, so she was able to communicate seamlessly with many of the new arrivals. She helped them navigate everything from calling an Uber driver to ensuring that a Social Security card got delivered to the right address. “They were very grateful and always very appreciative,” Alexander said.


The families faced a host of challenges – the language barrier, COVID-19, traveling with very young children and newborns, having to live in cramped motel rooms for months.

Swinging her backpack around, Graa Lucadji, 3, waits outside a hotel room in Old Orchard Beach for her father to load their belongings into a van on Wednesday. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

“I know what it’s like with kids,” Alexander said. “It’s close quarters. Those rooms are set for short vacations, not months … but they were very grateful and I saw a lot of communities helping these families out.”

Alexander said the motel had told the city of Portland early on that it wouldn’t be able to house people after the end of April. After two years of the pandemic suppressing tourism, she said, they’re anticipating a busy summer.

“We want to get in there and spruce it up so at the end of May, when Memorial Day comes about, we are open for business,” she said.


Adolfo Lucadji, his wife, Carlota, and their two girls, Graca, 3, and Adriela, who is 1, stayed at the Beach Gardens Motel for about six months. The family is from Angola and came to Maine nine months ago. As they packed up their belongings to move this week, Adolfo Lucadji said the Freeport motel they were heading to would be the third they would call home.


Adolfo Lucadji, holding his daughter Adriela, 1, listens while Mike Guthrie, with the City of Portland, talks about the family’s move to a new hotel in Freeport on Wednesday. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

“I feel more safe here with my family,” said Lucadji, who spoke Portuguese to an interpreter and said they left Angola because of the political situation there, because the country wasn’t taking care of its citizens. “It isn’t the same country as it was before,” said Lucadji, 32.

Lucadji didn’t provide further details on the political situation in Angola. The U.S. Department of State said last year that the country has made strides towards reducing political corruption, but challenges remain. “Corruption is still widespread,” a State Department report said in February 2021. “Angola suffers from inadequate checks and balances as well as a lingering culture of impunity. Facilitation payments remain a common part of doing business in Angola, including within the judicial system.”

In Angola, Lucadji was a manager for a transportation company. He said he would like to do the same type of work here, but that so far getting authorized to work has been difficult – not to mention that he doesn’t have a permanent place to live. Under the current federal rules, asylum seekers must wait six months after filing an asylum claim to become eligible to work, and the process often takes even longer.

Carlota Lucadji wants to study medicine and also is eager to work. “We keep moving from one hotel to another, moving here and moving there,” she said. “We have children and this is not easy for us. We need to get a house. We need to get a job. We need to work. We need to start going on in our lives.”

In their hotel room with their two children and a child from a neighboring room, Carlota Lucadji, left, and her husband, Adolfo, listen to Joanna Testa, a human services counselor with the City of Portland, discuss aspects of the room at the Best Western hotel in Freeport after the family moved their belongings into it on Wednesday. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Since November, the neighboring Old Orchard Beach motels have housed 32 families between them. For those being sheltered by Portland, the average stay in a hotel or motel is six to seven months, said Chelsea Hoskins, the city’s resettlement coordinator. It’s not uncommon for families to have to relocate during that time, and Hoskins is well aware of how difficult that is.

“You get connected and attached to providers in one area,” she said. “Then, as you move around, it becomes harder to stay connected with them because of transportation.”


Many of the families living in the Old Orchard Beach motels initially were placed in South Portland, and they were connected to health care in Portland. After several months, they’d started to feel at least a little settled.

“They feel connected to the community they’re in and then they need to relearn systems in a new town, like how far they are from the supports they need to access, what is the new transportation system, what are the new stores nearby,” Hoskins said. “It can be really tough at first.”

Jovoni Tussomno, an asylum seeker from Angola, walks down the hall of the Best Western hotel in Freeport where she and her son were moved with other asylum seeking families on Wednesday. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Jovoni Tussomno came to the U.S. from Angola with her 3-year-old son because she did not feel safe. Tears run down her face as she talks about her two other children left behind with her grandmother and aunt because she did not have enough money to bring them.

Tussomno, 31, was staying at the Beau Rivage and also moved to Freeport this week. “It would be better if I can find a permanent place to live and could start looking for a job to help my grandmother and my children,” she said through an interpreter.


Some families have gotten frustrated living in hotels and motels for so long, but Hoskins said there is only so much available housing and a building’s landlord or property management company must be willing to accept the rate of pay and payment process associated with the General Assistance the city provides. Some landlords also may be hesitant to house asylum seekers who aren’t able to work yet, she said.


“It’s hard because I think a lot of the families are feeling forgotten about – but the reality is there just aren’t enough housing navigators and there certainly is not enough available housing to get people moved into a permanent location on a faster time line at this point,” Hoskins said.

Dow, the health and human services director, said the city continues to work with the Greater Portland Council of Governments and the state to come up with more sustainable solutions for housing people, but right now it’s a crisis situation.

“Having to use hotels and, quite frankly, not having all the same services at all the hotels, and because we’re spread out so widely from Freeport to York County … there is no continuity across all the hotels,” Dow said. “This is not the model the city of Portland feels is the best model for the families, but it’s the emergency situation we’re faced with.”

In 2019, when an earlier wave of asylum seekers arrived, the city opened up the Portland Expo as an emergency shelter. But concerns still remain about housing large numbers of people in a congregate setting during COVID-19. The center also has its own contractual obligations and events going on, and its capacity would hardly solve the problem.

“We would need like four Expos,” Dow said.

She said she recently heard from a nonprofit in Washington, D.C., where Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas is currently busing families from the southern border, that more families there want to come to Maine.

“I don’t know the numbers that are being sent to Washington, D.C., from Texas, but we have to let them know that we are in crisis mode here,” Dow said. “We do not have any capacity in Portland, and families will have to be housed in communities outside of Portland.”

Dow said she also has asked community partners and non-governmental agencies on the southern border what they are hearing about why families are choosing Maine.

“Apparently Maine has a reputation for being a safe and welcoming state,” she said.

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