Protestors shelter from the rain outside the Portland Expo on Wednesday morning, June 28, 2023. Asylum seekers housed inside the building had staged a demonstration, complaining about living conditions and expressing anxiety over where they will go when the building's makeshift shelter closes in August. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

A Unity elected official Tuesday said that the Unity Environmental University won’t allow its former dorms to be used to house asylum seekers.

“We have it in writing [Unity Environmental University is] not doing it, they’re not bringing them here,” said Unity Selectman Tim Parker Jr., responding to a question raised during public comment at Tuesday’s selectboard meeting.

Rumors have been circulating for months about a potential plan to house asylum seekers at the college dorms. It’s not clear when the letter Parker referenced was received or what it said. The Bangor Daily News has requested a copy of the letter.

Parker said at the meeting that the university had affirmed to the town it was not equipped to handle a sudden influx of asylum seekers on campus. He did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Wednesday.

However, university officials deny this. Unity is still open to the possibility of housing asylum seekers on campus, said Melik Peter Khoury, the university’s president.

“At this time, Unity Environmental University’s stance has not shifted,” he said.

The Unity college is still waiting to see a comprehensive plan that details how the process would work and where the funding would come from, Khoury said. It wants to see a plan that is agreed upon by local and state officials, advocates and the school.

On June 12, the Greater Portland Council of Governments sent a proposal to MaineHousing and the governor’s office to use the Unity Environmental University — formerly Unity College — campus to house asylum seekers, stressing an immediate need for alternative housing options for a consistently rising number of asylum seekers in Portland homeless shelters. Portland’s mayor and city manager sent a letter to Gov. Janet Mills’ office on June 29 urging her to accept the proposal, but no response has been received yet.

The answer, Portland officials said, could potentially be setting up transitional housing for hundreds of asylum seekers at the Unity campus.

The Unity college shifted many of its academic programs to online over the last few years. Only a few dozen students still reside on the Waldo County campus.

Portland officials have set a mid-August deadline to close a makeshift emergency shelter for asylum seekers opened earlier this year at the Expo building. More than 250 people were housed there as of last week, and residents have recently protested poor living conditions at the facility.

Braeden Waddell is a reporter covering Belfast and Waldo County. He grew up in Waldoboro and joined the Bangor Daily News in 2023 after working as an associate producer for National Public Radio. He graduated...