Maine City Overwhelmed by Migrants Wants To Convert Private Homes, Churches to Homeless Shelters

Critics fear it will increase the burden on taxpayers by bloating the city’s welfare program.

AP/Veronica G. Cardenas
Migrants wait at the Gateway International Port of Entry under U.S. Customs and Border Protection custody at Brownsville, Texas. AP/Veronica G. Cardenas

A city in Maine is eyeing a new ordinance that would turn private homes, churches, and community centers into public shelters to accommodate migrants arriving from America’s border states, whom the city describe as “new Mainers.”

The ordinance introduced at Westbrook would not force homeowners or churches to house homeless people, but would instead give them the option to become official homeless shelters. Proponents say it would help the city cope with soaring rates of homelessness in its Cumberland County. Critics, however, fear it will increase the burden on taxpayers by bloating the size of the city’s welfare program.

At a meeting of Westbrook’s planning board on May 7, one resident, Martin Malia, expressed concern that the new ordinance would attract more homeless immigrants to the city. California has thrown more funds at the homelessness crisis, he said, and the homeless population in the state has ballooned.

“I believe the city, state, and federal resources should focus on finding affordable housing solutions rather than wasting tax dollars warehousing people,” Mr. Malia said, according to the Maine Wire. The current proposal is set to hike property taxes by 11.4 percent. Local residents already pay for 30 percent of the city’s general assistance program through property taxes, while the remaining 70 percent is paid for by statewide taxpayer money.

At a Westbrook City Council meeting on April 9, the council’s director of general assistance, Harison Deah, said that 90 to 95 percent of the people applying for welfare assistance are “new Mainers.” Mr. Deah added that his office has to teach some of the people entering assisted housing on the proper use of their thermostats and how to best communicate with their landlords. 

The planning board, however, voted unanimously to send the new ordinance to the city council for consideration. It also approved an ordinance creating a licensing process for homeless shelters.

“What we can afford in this ordinance are shelters in single family homes which are deemed to be emergency shelter families,” Westbrook’s director of planning and code enforcement, Jennie Franceschi, said, according to Maine Wire. “A church that has a room that they utilize for the purposes of baked bean suppers or educational or social needs could then take that room and make it into a shelter if the needs of the community necessitated it.”

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