A temporary shelter at the Portland Expo was last opened for asylum seekers in 2019. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

City staff are planning to reopen the Portland Expo Center as a temporary emergency shelter for asylum seekers as soon as April 10.

Portland has welcomed more than 780 asylum seekers since Jan. 1 – a wave that is much larger than the one reported in 2019 and is severely straining city resources.

The plans are detailed in a memo interim City Manager Danielle West sent to Mayor Kate Snyder and the City Council.

“Beginning on or about Monday, April 10, staff plan to operate the Portland Expo as a temporary overnight shelter for asylum seekers (both individuals and families),” the memo says. “We will be seeking assistance from the community and community partners as part of this operation, and we expect its operation to continue until additional capacity is made available by a private partner.”

The memo is expected to be presented as a communication item at a special meeting Monday, meaning no formal action is needed, though councilors will have the chance to offer feedback and guidance.

Snyder said that she could not speak about the memo Friday afternoon because she had not yet seen it and didn’t respond to a message seeking an interview about it Friday night. A city spokesperson said West was unavailable for an interview on Friday and that more details of the plans would be released Monday.


The use of the Expo is part of a larger plan to address the need for emergency housing as city shelters and overflow spaces are either at or surpassing their capacities.

It’s not clear how many beds the city plans to set up at the Expo and how much capacity that would add, but it’s expected to come online at the same time the city is planning to stop using an overflow at a school gym that is currently sheltering its maximum of 130 people each night.

The city also plans to continue using its Family Shelter – which is at capacity and often uses extra space to allow families to sleep in its multipurpose room.

Steeve Maboya, a Portland Family Shelter employee, helps set up the chairs that asylum seekers will sleep in the overflow space in the shelter. The families are all moved outside while staff sweep and mop the floor after dinner and then set up and sanitize the chairs before they call the families back inside. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Portland’s new 208-bed Homeless Services Center is slated to open next week and is expected to immediately reach capacity. It will replace the Oxford Street shelter in Bayside, which provides shelter for individuals, as opposed to families.

Another emergency shelter was opened this month at the Salvation Army gym on Cumberland Avenue. The Maine Immigrants’ Rights Coalition is running it with state funding, though the funding for that site is expected to last only through April.

The Expo was last opened as a temporary shelter for asylum seekers in 2019 after nearly 90 people arrived in just three days. It served as an emergency shelter again in the early days of the pandemic in 2020.



The memo said people staying at the Expo would eventually be expected to relocate in July to a new shelter that is being proposed by Developers Collaborative and the Center for Regional Prosperity at 90 Blueberry Road. Though details about that project are limited, the state announced Thursday that it awarded $4 million to the project.

The Homeless Services Center and Blueberry Road site are located on the outskirts of the city, while the Expo, Family Shelter, Salvation Army and school gym are all located closer to downtown.

Some homeless people have raised concerns about the new center being so far away, though the city has said those concerns will be mitigated because many services will be offered on site and a shuttle service will be available to offer transportation downtown.

City officials in recent weeks have continued to push for more state, regional and federal help in responding to the influx of asylum seekers, most of whom are coming from central African countries, including Angola, Congo and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Two weeks ago, Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, wrote to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to ask the agency to verify addresses and capacity at the destinations provided by people crossing the southern border in order to help mitigate the overflow of people to Portland.

Collins also asked Homeland Security to respond to a series of questions about border operations, including whether the agency verifies destination addresses, the extent to which it assesses the ability of destinations to absorb more asylum seekers, and whether the department helps facilitate transportation for asylum seekers.

Collins asked for responses to her questions by Friday. Her office said they had not received a response as of 4 p.m.

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