A man sits on the edge of a cot at the emergency shelter setup inside the Portland Expo building in June 2019. Credit: Troy R. Bennett

The city of Portland has received more than $900,000 in recent donations to help assist newly arrived asylum seekers. Finance officials are recommending the city prioritize housing, basic needs and reimbursing local groups as it begins to appropriate the funds.

The city’s finance committee unanimously endorsed that plan on Thursday night. Portland City Manager Jon Jennings told the committee that housing is the most urgent need, and is what the city told the public it would use the donations for.

“Most people that made contributions over the course of the last several weeks, that is the emergency side of it. As well as the transitions to a more sustainable life,” he said.

[Community leaders blame housing confusion on ‘miscommunication’ as they hurry to place asylum seekers by deadline]

Depending on how much money is left over, Jennings said donations could also be used to help reimburse the city and nonprofit groups that have provided services to asylum seekers since they began arriving in early June.

“In all honesty, it’s not fair that we would reimburse the city without also trying to assist them in the expense they’ve provided. ESL, you name it. There’s just been a tremendous outpouring of assistance from the nonprofit sector and others,” he said.

The state is also expected to help. Last week, Gov. Janet Mills announced that she was proposing to relax state guidelines for general assistance and make qualified asylum seekers eligible. The program is funded 70 percent by the state and covers needs such as housing and food.

Portland’s city council is expected to make a final decision on spending the donations at its meeting next month.

This article appears through a media partnership with Maine Public.