This situation is a stark reminder that the issues at the border are not confined to the border regions.
Between January and April, the city received over 1,000 migrants, many of whom have been provided with housing and public resources, according to city officials. At present, approximately 225 tents constitute Portland's homeless encampments. Individuals residing in these encampments, along with a homeless advocate, have expressed to the Daily Caller News Foundation (DCNF) that the city lacks sufficient resources to address both issues.
Carol Waig, who operates the nonprofit My Fathers Hands, which aids Portland's homeless population, told the DCNF, "The influx of asylum seekers has grown every year since Portland became a sanctuary city and currently the homeless shelter is full of asylum seekers."
The Maine State Housing Authority reports that the state's homeless population has more than doubled from roughly 2,000 in 2021 to approximately 4,400 as of January 2022. This sharp increase is "likely reflective of a surge in asylum-seeking immigrants."
In response to the crisis, the city recently established a new emergency shelter, freeing up between 100 and 125 beds, according to its website. In August, the city also initiated a program to transport migrants out of Portland, relocating them from a temporary emergency shelter in a basketball arena to motels in other parts of the state, including Lewiston and Freeport, as reported by the Associated Press.
Jessica Grondin, a city spokesperson, told the AP, "Our staff have been completely at capacity in terms of who they’re able to shelter and assist."
A homeless individual in Portland, identified as Bryce, expressed his frustration to the DCNF, stating, "People from other countries come here, automatically get housing, get free care, free everything, it’s not right."
The DCNF observed that one large homeless encampment in Portland is littered with needles, naloxone used to reverse overdoses, and needle disposal containers. Drug use is rampant among the camp, according to a resident named Harold.
Grondin informed the DCNF that some of Portland's homeless have declined offers of shelter. "Through our [Encampment Crisis Response Team] process we have offered more than 150 shelter beds to people who are in encampments, but have not had overwhelming success in getting people into the shelter," she said.
The city is expanding its outreach efforts to get people into shelters, especially with the onset of cold weather. However, the influx of migrants is expected to continue, given Democratic Maine Gov. Janet Mills' August order to establish an "Office of New Americans" and bring in 75,000 new workers by 2029.
Despite the challenges, the city continues to offer assistance to both migrants and the homeless, according to Grondin. Both groups qualify for the state’s General Assistance program, which provides help with housing, fuel, utilities, medical care, and burial costs.
City shelters housed an average of 1,200 individuals every night as of June, according to the city website. Some families are also being housed in a contracted hotel. The city opened the Homeless Service Center (HSC) in March for 208 single individuals, in addition to the city’s family shelter. The city council in Portland recently approved expanding capacity at the HSC by 50 beds.
Grondin stated, "Our goal is to connect those in encampments with those beds."