Makina sits on her cot at the Portland Expo next to her three-month-old daughter in 2019.  Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Portland is asking for donations to help support asylum seekers as the city prepares to open the Expo building Monday as a temporary emergency shelter.

The city is planning to house around 300 asylum-seeking individuals and families there through the summer and will be open 24/7.

More than 1,000 asylum seekers have arrived in Portland seeking shelter and services since Jan. 1, and the city is currently providing shelter to about 1,200 people on a nightly basis.

“This is a very dire situation and the opening of the Expo is the last overnight overflow space that we as city staff have available to open and operate,” Interim City Manager Danielle West said in a news release. “We are truly beyond our capacity to be able to continue to provide compassionate care for those seeking shelter.”

Asked Thursday about the cost of running the new shelter, city spokesperson Jessica Grondin said there will be fixed costs in excess of $100,000 and significant ongoing weekly staffing and utility costs that the city is still finalizing.

She said some costs will be offset by the fact the city owns the Expo and that people staying there are eligible for General Assistance, but that won’t cover everything, which is why the city is seeking donations.


West said the city is working with state and regional partners to try and find other ways to provide emergency housing and services to accommodate asylum seekers, most of whom are coming from central African countries including Angola, Congo and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

“It is our hope that at least one new facility in the area will come online this summer,” West said.

The Expo is expected to be nearly full upon opening. It will replace a school gym that has been used as an overnight overflow space since February.

The city is at capacity at its Family Shelter on Chestnut Street and at the new Homeless Services Center that opened last month.

A private effort to open a new shelter at 90 Blueberry Road is in the works from Developers Collaborative and the Center for Regional Prosperity, and Portland officials have said they hope that facility can open in July to replace the Expo.

The city last used the Expo as a shelter for asylum seekers in 2019, but avoided reopening the building during the COVID-19 pandemic, when the city instead relied on hotels to provide additional non-congregate overnight space.


As in 2019, the city is again seeking donations to support those who will be staying at the shelter. Monetary donations can be made online at or by texting the word EXPO to 91999.

Donations can also be mailed or dropped off at City Hall, and the city said they will be used to provide shelter and housing assistance and basic necessities. Checks should say “support asylum seekers” in the memo field.

Physical donations are being limited only to specific items on an Amazon wish list that can be directly shipped to the Expo. The list includes diapers, toiletries and disposable plates and silverware.

Grondin said Thursday afternoon that the city had already received $100, but that was prior to the announcement that they were accepting donations again.

The city raised over $900,000 in private donations in 2019 to support about 400 asylum seekers who arrived unexpectedly over the summer that year. It cost the city $400,000 to operate the Expo as a shelter for two months that year.

The donations were put into the city’s Health and Human Services budget with the understanding that it would pay for sheltering and basic needs for the migrant families, and some of it was used to pay groups that helped the city including Catholic Charities, Portland Public Schools, the town of Brunswick and Greater Portland Health.

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