State extends use of Saco hotel as transitional housing for asylum seekers

The state and Catholic Charities Maine plan to continue operating a Saco hotel as transitional housing for asylum seekers at least through December.

The program, which started last summer, has housed 440 people in its first year, including 205 adults and 235 children, and cost the state $5.1 million.

It has helped meet some of the shelter needs the city of Portland has seen because of an influx of homeless asylum seekers. The city refers people to placement in the hotel, which as of mid-May was housing about 320 people.

Officials from the state and Catholic Charities declined to name the hotel, citing the privacy of the residents.

The contracts for the hotel and support services had been set to expire Wednesday, but a state official said they had enough funding to continue at least through the end of the year, but for now, they have only extended the contracts through June 30.

Gov. Janet Mills has included $12 million for emergency housing in her budget change package, a portion of which could go toward using the Saco hotel through the end of 2024, Greg Payne, senior adviser on housing policy in the Governor’s Office of Policy Innovation & the Future , said in an e-mail.

“We have funding to extend the hotel and services through the end of this year, and there is funding currently under consideration in the governor’s change package to extend that through the end of next year,” he said.

“The next contract will either run through this year, or next year, depending on the outcome of the budget in the Legislature.”

Catholic Charities Maine Chief Program Officer Julie Allaire is hopeful.

“We hope that passage of the state budget by the end of June will include funds to continue the program for an additional year beyond (December),” Allaire said in a statement.

The state, city of Portland and Catholic Charities embarked on the pilot program last year to provide transitional housing with services including cultural orientation, assistance enrolling in public benefits and schools, support in filing for asylum, and help accessing transportation and health care in response to the influx of asylum seekers.

The city has seen more than 1,500 asylum seekers arrive since Jan. 1. Payne said Portland had “exclusive access” to the hotel for placements as a way to provide the city with as much relief as possible and to take the pressure off its General Assistance department.

“Our understanding is that this arrangement will not change going forward,” he said.

The hotel can house about 315 people at a time, depending on family size.

Lodging at the hotel has already cost the state $4.3 million plus $830,000 for the services provided by Catholic Charities and has been paid for with state funding authorized by the Legislature for emergency housing.

“Going forward, future costs for the hotel will remain consistent through the end of 2024 per agreement between MaineHousing, the hotel and Catholic Charities, with an allowance of up to 5% for costs associated with inflation,” Payne said.

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