FREEPORT — A group of residents and town officials is trying to work with the city of Portland to move asylum-seekers into the community.

The group, which includes Town Councilors Tawni Whitney and Douglas Reighley, General Assistance Administrator Johanna Hanselman, former Town Councilors Melanie Sachs and  Ed Bradley, and a handful of residents, met on Tuesday prior to the Town Council meeting to discuss what Portland needs and how the town can house asylum-seekers.

In their meeting afterwards, councilors moved forward on a plan to buy solar energy for municipal use, but postponed filling a vacancy on the Regional School Unit 5 Board of Directors.

According to Sachs, up to four properties in town will be available for asylum-seekers, although it is unclear how many people will be able to live in these homes. According to Sachs, asylum-seekers will have to apply through the Maine State Housing Authority, which will pay up to two years of rent.

At the informal meeting, members of the committee discussed the four main areas that need to be considered: long-term housing, short-term housing, immediate needs for asylum-seekers and fundraising efforts by the town.

Communication between the town and city of Portland has been the biggest issue, according to members of the committee, who said they have struggled to find out what the needs are for asylum-seekers.

“Communication part has been really hard to figure out what the needs are,” Bradley said. “Having a mechanism for communicating logistics with Portland has been a struggle.”

There were still 229 asylum-seekers living in the Portland Exposition Building as of Monday night. They have to be out by Aug. 15, when the building is leased to the Portland Red Claws basketball team.

The committee hopes to come up with a fundraising proposal to cover other expenses, including electricity bills and groceries, before the asylum-seekers can legally seek jobs.

“Many asylum-seekers want to work,” Hanselman said. “Instead of working, many of them are volunteering and becoming a part of the community.”

For now, the committee is suggesting that if anyone in town has a home that can be opened up to asylum-seekers for either the long term or short term, they should contact Maine State Housing, which arranges inspections of the spaces and works with leasing.

Members also acknowledged the town already faces a housing need for current residents. They said they hope to only take on as much as they can handle within the restraints of the community’s existing resources.

“We need to be sensitive that there are people in Freeport that are trying to get housing,” Council Chairwoman Sarah Tracy, who described herself as an “adjunct” member of the committee, said. “There needs to be a balance, and we need to be sensitive to make sure that we’re not taking over all of the housing to the extent that it exists.”

The four units that could now house asylum-seekers have no waiting list, she said.

The committee, which is being led by Sachs, plans to meet on a short-term basis on Tuesdays at 5 p.m. at the Town Council Chambers, and is looking for four more members from the community.

Town Council

In it’s formal meeting, the Town Council voted to begin negotiations on a solar power purchase agreement with ReVision Energy.

The decision was unanimous and received support from all councilors except Scott Gleeson, who was absent.

“I am excited for this project,” Councilor Eric Horne said. “It’s time that we move in this direction and it’s going to be interesting to watch the energy markets as they evolve.”

The council was scheduled to fill an interim vacancy on the RSU 5 board, but tabled the item to provide more adequate notice to the public. The seat became vacant when John Morang resigned June 30; the term expires in November, when a full-term replacement will be elected.

People interested in filling the short-term vacancy should contact Town Clerk Christine Wolfe with an expression of interest by Aug. 1 and be present at the Aug. 8 council meeting. Councilors also said they will work with RSU 5 to make sure the public is adequately notified about the selection process.


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