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More Transitional Housing Needed for Increased Asylum Seekers in Maine

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Monday, December 5, 2022   

The growing number of asylum-seekers in Maine has spurred cities and towns to join forces and build more transitional housing for families in need.

The Safe in Maine coalition aims to raise $2 million of the $43 million it hopes to receive in state and federal funding for some 200 modular housing units.

Belinda Ray, director of strategic partnerships for the Greater Portland Council of Governments, said the temporary homes would help the approximately 1,000 people currently residing in emergency shelters and hotels throughout the region.

"If we can get these houses established it will really help to save money because we won't have to rely on hotels for traditional housing," Ray explained.

Ray pointed out the homes would be built by local companies and would include much needed outdoor space for families, especially those who've arrived in Maine after fleeing persecution or war in their own home countries.

The Portland area has a long history of welcoming immigrants and refugees, many from Somalia, Afghanistan and Iraq, though there has been a more recent increase in asylum-seekers from Angola, Haiti and Ukraine.

Portland alone welcomed nearly 2,000 asylum-seekers in the past year, but it can no longer provide newcomers with adequate housing.

Mufalo Chitam, executive director of the Maine Immigrants' Rights Coalition, said the new Mainers are not arriving in search of free amenities, but rather the chance to improve their lives.

"You know, people come to the United States. They come here because of the opportunity to work," Chitam noted. "This is an opportunity for enriching our culture."

Maine has the oldest overall population of any state in the U.S. and observers say these new Mainers are a great boon to the state's workforce and economy. So much so, Gov. Janet Mills and members of Maine's congressional delegation are working to change the federal law which prohibits asylum-seekers from working until their asylum application has been processed for at least 180 days.


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