A local developer and the city of Portland have found a location for a temporary shelter to house up to 180 asylum seekers by late fall and help reduce stress on Portland’s overburdened social services system.

Developer Kevin Bunker and city officials have secured space on Riverside Industrial Parkway near the municipal golf course, according to a memo included in the City Council’s meeting agenda for Monday. The project is supported by a $4.5 million grant from MaineHousing and eventually will be staffed by the nonprofit Maine Immigrant Rights Coalition.

Council members still need to approve the plans, but the goal is to open the facility by Nov. 30.

Just two weeks ago, Bunker said he started looking for an alternative site after scrapping plans to build a shelter at 90 Blueberry Road. In an email Saturday, Bunker said he was pleased the new site came together so quickly after it became clear the Blueberry Road location was not feasible.

“That is a testament not only to my team but really the clear, early and shared commitment from both the state and the city in the basic outlines of what a solution could look like,” he wrote. “In this case, the city has expressed willingness to be the service provider and the state is stepping up in a major way with financing, and they both gave me the trust and the latitude to try to use those building blocks to figure out a concept that could work for everybody, and that is hopefully what we are on the cusp of now.”

Portland has faced an increase in the number of asylum seekers settling here, most of whom need temporary shelter until they are authorized to work. The city’s new 200-bed Homeless Services Center, which opened last month on Riverside Street, and the city’s family shelter downtown have been over capacity, and this spring officials opened the Portland Expo as a temporary shelter for asylum seekers for the second time in four years.


There are about 300 people staying at the Expo shelter now, and city leaders have said they plan to close it in mid-August. It’s not clear where some of them might go until the new shelter is operational.

The city also is dealing with many unhoused people living in tents throughout the city, which has become a growing concern for city and business leaders. On Tuesday, the city will host a listening session from 5:30-8 p.m. at Ocean Gateway to hear from residents.

The memo to city councilors about the new shelter for asylum seekers indicates that the city “will be responsible for being the primary service provider to operate the shelter for the first 18 months,” after which the Maine Immigrant Rights Coalition takes over for the remaining 18 months of the 3-year contract.

Councilors will meet at 4 p.m. Monday to vote on the proposal.

Among those urging support are Gov. Janet Mills. Her chief of staff, Jeremy Kennedy, sent a letter to Portland officials on Friday in which he referred to the project as “important and needed.”

Bunker said he’s had the opportunity over the last few years to be involved in conversations about helping vulnerable populations, including women in recovery and the unhoused.

“I have also been fortunate enough to be able to use real estate as a tool to try to be helpful, so I am just trying to build on that and contribute my piece of the solution,” he said. “While coordinating multiple stakeholders can at times be maddening to try to layer on top of what is already a complex development process, in the end I do enjoy it and feel like I can usually bring something unique to the table.”

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