A young girl sweeps up the area around her cot at the Portland Expo in June. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Asylum seekers who have been staying in the Portland Expo will move to hotels in Lewiston and Freeport when the temporary shelter closes Wednesday.

The city of Portland confirmed Tuesday that it had contracted with a hotel in Lewiston in addition to a hotel in Freeport. The two facilities will provide temporary shelter for the 192 people staying in the Expo, which is home to the Maine Celtics basketball team and was only available for a limited time.

The state and the city of Portland will foot the hotel bills in Lewiston and Freeport – with the state covering around 70% of the cost and the city 30%. The city said it expects to spend around $500,000 on the hotels.

Portland opened the Expo as a temporary shelter in April to house an influx of asylum seekers. The city announced the Expo’s closing date weeks ago and stopped accepting new families in June, saying it would need to reopen the sports arena for scheduled events this fall. The city said it hopes to find housing placements for the families and that it doesn’t anticipate the hotels will be a long-term solution.

More than 1,600 asylum seekers have arrived in Portland since Jan. 1, overwhelming already strained shelter and housing resources. A total of 192 people are currently staying at the Expo, down from around 300 this spring.

Asylum seekers are allowed to remain in the U.S. while pursuing permanent status as asylees, which requires them to show they face danger or persecution in their home countries. However, they are not allowed to work and support themselves for at least six months after applying for asylum.


The city said it does not yet know how many asylum seekers will be headed to Lewiston and how many to Freeport.

But the Freeport school district said Portland informed them Monday evening that it would be receiving around 60 school-aged students from the Expo. The district is now assessing its resources and preparing to support its new students, said RSU5 Superintendent Jean Skorapa.

Most, if not all, of the new students are likely to be English language learners, meaning they have a first language other than English.

The 2,000 student district currently enrolls 80 multilingual students. Adding 60 more to the roster less than two weeks before the 2023-24 school year begins is likely to stretch the district’s resources, said Skorapa. The district has only three multilingual teachers and a small team to evaluate student English proficiency.

“The closer you get to the school year the harder it is,” said Skorapa.

Still, Skorapa said, it is better for the students to join the district now so they can start school at the top of the year, and the district will do what it can with the resources it has to evaluate, support and welcome its new students.

“We have found that new Mainers have made us a more well rounded, diverse district,” said Skorapa. “They have been a wonderful addition to the community.”

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