by Wendy Hayes, Tikkun Olam Council Chair
On July 2, I attended a Greater Portland Council of Governments (GPCOG) meeting, attended primarily by communities of faith and non-profits, addressing the situation at the Portland Expo which is currently serving as an emergency shelter for about 270 immigrants, including about 40 families. The work that is being done is very heartening. A few examples: volunteers are donating time and money; local hospitals are helping with towels and bedding; Portland School staff are starting a screening process for the children; Portland has shared its police and office staff to ensure order and safety. There are many challenges–legal, financial, social, and logistical–that are being addressed. A simple example: the Immigrant Legal Advocacy Project (ILAP) is working on getting addresses for the immigrants as they are currently randomly assigned addresses countrywide and, therefore, court dates for which they must appear are scattered across the country.
The GPCOG held the meeting primarily to look for housing solutions. The Portland Expo is only available through August. The current strategy is to find housing for the families staying at the city’s family shelter so that those in the Expo can be moved into the shelter, but housing is in very short supply. The hope is that seasonal housing will open up in October, but that doesn’t help the immediate need. They are currently looking for space along bus lines from Brunswick to Old Orchard. There are support resources, mostly social but some financial as well, from various organizations.
I am very proud of the support given to the immigrant population by Bet Ha’am members. Involvement in Family Promise, Welcoming the Stranger, ILAP, MIRC, and Portland Adult Ed are just a few of the organizations our membership are involved with.
This situation at the Portland Expo is urgent and I have no idea what resources may exist within the Bet Ha’am community, but if you have ideas or space, please let me know at tikkunolam @ bethaam.org and I can pass it along. I’ll keep you updated as best as I can.
Photo credit: Bangor Daily News