A young asylum-seeker waves goodbye to shelter staff as they leave the Portland Expo for hotels in Lewiston and Freeport on Wednesday. Brianna Soukup / Portland Press Herald

Casco Bay Inn on Route 1 in Freeport opened its doors to 40 asylum-seeking families with 60 school-aged children Wednesday after the Portland Expo closed its shelter.

Portland’s Director of Communications Jessica Grondin said the move “went well” and took less than two hours to shuttle the 60 families displaced from the Expo to hotels in Lewiston and Freeport.

Four months ago, Portland opened the Expo sports arena as a temporary shelter for 300 asylum-seekers. By mid-August, the city was forced to find more permanent accommodations for families as the arena planned to reopen for regularly scheduled fall events.

Grondin said the City of Portland worked closely with Freeport officials to secure a one-year contract with Casco Bay Inn. The contract includes on-site staff to continue providing support services to the families. Portland will pay $500,000 for the use of both hotels after they receive 70% reimbursement from the state through General Assistance, Grondin said.

Attempts to reach Casco Bay Inn for comment were unsuccessful Thursday.

School plans for children

Regional School Unit 5 Superintendent Jean Skorapa said her staff will meet with families in Freeport on Tuesday. With the assistance of translators, Skorapa said they will help parents choose whether they want their students to attend Freeport or Portland schools. The 60 school-aged children currently living at the Casco Bay Inn speak Portuguese, French or Lingala, she said.

Over the past year and a half, Skorapa said RSU 5 has welcomed many asylum-seeking children into its schools and has three English-as-a-second-language (ESL) teachers on staff to assist with the language barrier. She said the goal is to enroll the kids for the beginning of the school year and look at the district’s resources that can best assist them.

“The new Mainers that join us make us a more well-rounded district, and they are a wonderful addition to our community,” Skorapa said.

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