The site of new shelter proposed for asylum seekers at 166 Riverside Industrial Parkway in Portland on Monday. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

A new homeless shelter intended to serve asylum seekers is one step closer to opening after the Portland City Council approved a contract Monday to provide services that include assistance with housing, health care and education.

The council voted 8-1 to approve the contract with Developers Collaborative, the private developer that will own and manage the shelter at 166 Riverside Industrial Parkway, and the Maine Immigrants’ Rights Coalition, which will assist with providing services. The contract states that the coalition may also take over providing services from the city after 18 months.

Councilor Mark Dion, who represents District 5 where the shelter will be located, was the only councilor opposed.

Dion said he has received feedback from constituents concerned about locating the proposed shelter in the same neighborhood as the Homeless Services Center that the city opened in March, and who aren’t aware that the new shelter would be targeted at asylum seekers.

“I have a hard time telling (constituents) that it makes sense to vote on this the day before we have a listening session,” Dion said, referring to a listening session on homeless encampments the city has planned for Tuesday.

“I understand the pressures Kevin Bunker and his team are under, but I just need to put that out there. I understand what we need to do as a city and will act that way, but I think it’s imperative that the issues confronting Riverton and how they see themselves in this decision are really up for discussion.”


Other members of the council said the shelter plans will help meet a dire need for more emergency shelter and help the city better meet the distinct needs of two different groups: asylum seekers and the circumstantially unhoused, many of whom are living outside in tents.

“I think part of what we have before us tonight is getting the right services to the right people in the right place,” said Mayor Kate Snyder. “We’ve all been mindful of that for a few months now. We want to align services with the people who need them.”

The 180-bed shelter is smaller and has a different focus than the original shelter plans from Developers Collaborative and the Center for Regional Prosperity, the nonprofit arm of the Greater Portland Council of Governments, which applied for and received state funding from MaineHousing for the project this spring.

The original shelter plans called for 280 beds at 90 Blueberry Road at a facility that would mostly house families. After that location fell through, MaineHousing said a new project would need to be designated by June 30 or else the funding would need to be returned to the state general fund.

City officials said Monday the shelter will now give preference to asylum seeking individuals, including those currently staying at the Homeless Services Center, because the center was designed to provide services for the circumstantially homeless.

About 85% of people staying at the center are asylum seekers, and the city is seeing high numbers of homeless people living in encampments.


“It feels like right now we do have a path forward with partnerships from MIRC and Developers Collaborative to work with the community to try and feed two birds with one seed to move asylum seekers into a space that’s more conducive to their needs, and to open up space in the Homeless Services Center, to address the needs of people who are unhoused,” said City Councilor Andrew Zarro.

Still, some residents expressed concerns about the new shelter plans.

“It feels like Riverton is being left without a voice,” said George Folster, who lives in the neighborhood and said he felt the proposal was rushed.

“Many of my neighbors are still unsure about the proposed location and I’m hearing different locations for where people think it is,” Folster said. “Having the vote after tomorrow’s informational session, I think, would make for a much more inclusive government process.”

Cathy Laferriere said she lives across from the shelter and can see it from her porch. “There’s no transportation. How will people get there?” she said. “I was fully aware this was an industrial road, not an encampment and not a place where people would just appear. 180 beds? I don’t live in an apartment complex, and I didn’t choose that.”

The city will provide services for the first 18 months at the new shelter including cultural orientation and help understanding life in the U.S., on-site housing navigators to assist with housing applications and coordination of third-party services from outside providers in the areas of health, education and the asylum process.


The city will also provide connections and transportation to community health providers and will train residents on how to use the Metro bus.

City Manager Danielle West said the city’s work will be paid for with funds already in the city budget, including General Assistance and donations raised to help asylum seekers, though if the funding needs change the council could be asked in the future to consider a budget amendment. The cost of the services was not immediately available Monday night, nor was the amount of donations the city has raised to date.

The coalition will be responsible for providing food and staff to prepare and serve meals throughout the life of the contract, and staff from the coalition will shadow city staff to prepare to possibly take over all services around or after 18 months.

Kevin Bunker, founder and principal at Developers Collaborative, said some work will need to be done to renovate the warehouse and convert it into a shelter, including adding bathrooms, showers and a kitchen and installing a new roof. He said he anticipates that work could be completed by November.

Bunker said he will also need to go to either the planning board or zoning board of appeals for approval of a change of use, though the contract stipulates that the project will be able to operate on an emergency basis, without final land use approvals, for six months.

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