One of the first things visitors see when entering the Brunswick Town Hall is the “Welcome New Mainers” mural, created by Artists’ Rapid Response Team. Taylor Abbott / The Forecaster

BRUNSWICK — Several local organizations have mobilized to assist asylum-seekers moving from Portland into housing at Brunswick Landing.

Midcoast New Mainers and The Emergency Action Network are among the groups that have offered to support the new residents. They are collecting donations, and working to line up translators and other aid.

Chris Rhoades of Brunswick Landing Ventures speaks to councilors at Monday’s meeting about extending his offer to asylum-seekers to provide free housing for three months. Taylor Abbott / The Forecaster

Town Manager John Eldridge and Superintendent of Schools Paul Perzanoski last week recommended the town create a task force to make the newcomers’ transition into the community as easy as possible. Members include Perzanoski; Town Councilors Jane Millett, Steve Walker and Dan Ankeles, and School Board members Teresa Gillis, Sarah Singer and Celina Harrison. A date has not been set for the panel’s first meeting.

“Our group and Midcoast New Mainers have been providing all support for these individuals,” Singer, who is also a co-founder of TEAN, said at Monday’s Town Council meeting. “I was at the Landing when refugees arrived. They are quite a lovely group of people and I am grateful to have gotten to meet them.”

While many have been eager to help, Singer said, it is important to understand the families are individuals who are settling into a new area.

“These people have experienced a lot of trauma and we have been asked to be sensitive to that and aware of cultural limitations,” she said. Singer suggested the town hire a cultural broker who is knowledgeable in the asylum-seekers’ African culture to make the adjustment easier.

“These people do not want to be viewed as victims,” Singer said. “They want to be their own people. TEAN is here to help, but we are not equipped to be a long-term resource.”

Carol Kalajainen, of Midcoast New Mainers, said the asylum-seekers did not flee their home countries to be a burden. “They came here to have a safe place to raise children, work, learn English and become taxpayers to help other people,” she said.

Eldridge said the city of Portland reached out to him about relocating asylum-seekers to Brunswick for both temporary and permanent terms. A dozen have been moved into private housing owned by Brunswick Landing Ventures, and 10 more were expected by the end of this week.

The families moved in July 12 and have been offered the space free for at least three months, Chris Rhoades, an owner of the properties, said.

“We’ve donated a four-bedroom and five-bedroom home, and offered them three months in these houses, and it may be longer,” Rhoades said. “These families are lovely and these people have gone through something I would never want to and the outpouring of offerings of services and resources has been an incredible experience to watch.”

As of Monday, approximately 240 asylum-seekers were staying at the Portland Expo and required housing before Aug. 7, when the space will be needed for use by the Maine Red Claws basketball team.

Giff Jamison, director of operations at Tedford Housing, said in an interview last week that asylum-seekers will not be moving into local shelters, because those buildings are already at capacity.

“We wouldn’t be able to set aside a section of our resources for asylum-seekers,” Jamison said. “However, I think we are sympathetic to the plight and would work collaboratively with other organizations to help come up with a solution.

Councilors on Monday discusse suggestions on how to best handle the task. Eldridge suggested creating a network, much like Portland has, to coordinate services and make referrals for support.

“This was thrust on us, but it is here and we have to address this as a community now,” Councilor David Watson said. “We need to know what the community is feeling, but we don’t want negative situations taking place. They are here and we have a responsibility now and need to work together as a community, no matter where we stand on the matter, to make this a positive situation.”

Questions were also raised about assimilating the additional children into the school system and services that will be needed. According to Eldridge, Perzanoski has been working on a solution.

“Let’s make this happen so that these people have a positive experience,” Watson said. “For this to be good, we need to work together.”


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