This story appears through a media partnership with Maine Public.
Masamba Filho, a former hairdresser from Angola, says she’s been living at the Portland Expo since April with her husband and two children: a six-year-old and a six-month-old.
Speaking in Portuguese, she said it’s stressful not knowing where the family will go when the Expo closes next week.
“We only know that we’re going to leave, that’s the only information we have,” she said, adding that the lack of information makes her and others anxious.
Filho and her family are among nearly 200 asylum seekers still living at the Expo, according to Kristen Dow, the city’s health and human services director.
Dow said the city has been able to rehouse about ten families so far. Several have been relocated to a motel in Saco that’s being run with support from the state and Catholic Charities.
“Some are going into permanent housing — apartments that have been found — and some are going into… rooms at the family shelter,” she said. “Or at the Saco hotel.”
Dow said the city is also hoping to place some families through a home share campaign that she says has gotten off to a slow start.
“It hasn’t been as successful as we had originally hoped,” she said. “But we are absolutely hoping that we can get some families moved this week into that program.”
Lucas Schrage is with the Quality Housing Coalition, the organization running the initiative to enlist homeowners to rent space to asylum seekers.
He said his organization will probably be able to find housing for a handful of families.
“At this point, it’s extremely touch and go. I’m reluctant to give out any solid numbers just because the unfortunate nature of home share is that sometimes you get some last minute apprehension, which is okay. And there’s a lot of moving parts for this,” he said.
Schrage said more than 100 people have reached out to express interest in renting to asylum seekers.
The challenge, he said, is finding placements with necessary supports.
“And the reality of it is that the vast majority of the people that have reached out for homeshare are in areas that have no easy access to public transportation, they’re in areas that have no easy access to the resources that may be necessary for some of these families,” he said.
For asylum seekers who do not yet have work authorization, the campaign aims to secure rent through municipal general assistance programs, and the Quality Housing Coalition says it will offer financial guarantees and support to both tenants and hosts.
The campaign began by asking homeowners to sign a one-year lease, but Schrage says the requirement has been relaxed to accommodate shorter term rentals.
But Expo residents including Masamba Filho are looking at a moveout deadline next week. Filho says she’s waiting for more information from the city, and struggling with the anxiety of not knowing where she and her family will go.
“We always think positively,” she said. “But we need to know at least a little bit about what could happen tomorrow.”