City officials this week announced the first round of funding for groups that helped accommodate an unprecedented influx of asylum seekers over the summer.

Individuals and groups donated more than $900,000 to the city to help offset the costs of sheltering, feeding and housing nearly 450 individuals who arrived over the course of a few weeks beginning last June. Officials scrambled to set up an emergency shelter to house many of them at the Portland Exposition building, which operated until Aug. 15.

A fund was established to manage the donations and the city encouraged organizations to apply. The first round of funding includes more than $141,000 distributed to 11 groups, with allocations ranging from $480 to $70,000, according to a report submitted to the City Council Monday.

City Manager Jon Jennings said the city continues to work with other groups who have yet to apply for a reimbursement.

“There will be other rounds of funding coming forward,” Jennings told councilors Monday.

Portland has experienced another recent uptick in the arrival of asylum seekers, who are escaping persecution and violence in their homelands. A city spokesperson said Tuesday that 96 families, totaling 333 individuals, have arrived since Nov. 18. More than 100 are staying at the city’s family shelter on Chestnut Street. An additional 71 people are staying in overflow facilities, including the Salvation Army gym. That’s down from a peak of 98 people on Dec. 17.


The city will continue to accept applications on a rolling basis to distribute additional funds, according to City Hall communications director Jessica Grondin. She said the city would determine what to do with the remaining donations once all eligible groups are reimbursed. Some councilors have urged the city to retain some of the donations in case the city receives another influx.

Brunswick received the largest allocation for helping over the summer. Jennings said the town 26 miles north of Portland received $70,000 to pay the first year’s salary, excluding benefits, of a cultural broker, Nsiona Nguizani,  hired to help the roughly 100 asylum seekers who were housed there.

Jennings said the town helped house the asylum seekers, even though officials had little experience with this population, many of whom are from sub-Saharan African countries of Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

“This is something that was very new for Brunswick,” he said.

Brunswick Assistant Town Manager Ryan Leighton said the town was grateful for the reimbursement and other assistance it received from Portland. He said the town is looking to add more resources to support Nguizani.

“The city of Portland was great to work with,” Leighton said, singling out Jennings and assistant city manager Heather Brown.


Another Brunswick-based group of volunteers, The Emergency Action Network, received $11,765 for providing drivers, interpreters, thousands of dollars in gift cards and for opening up private homes as drop-off centers for donations.

Portland Public Schools received $15,108 for providing educational services to 81 students, who received about four hours, four days a week in July and early August. The district said it needed to hire six additional staff for the 50 elementary school children that stayed at the Expo and one additional person to help with high school kids. Transportation costs were not included in the request, but could be sought in the future.

The Maine Emergency Management Agency received nearly $11,950 to replace broken and damaged cots and to provide hundreds of blankets.

The Immigrant Legal Advocacy Project, which provides free legal services, received $6,178 from the city in addition to a $40,000 allocation from South Portland. The group estimates it spent 1,000 hours of regular staff time helping 94 families navigate the complex legal process for seeking asylum. The group also held a one-day legal orientation on June 22, and the nonprofit’s legal staff was joined by 11 volunteer attorneys for a 13-day session helping 200 adults find and update their case files.

While most of the council accepted the report without comment, Councilor Tae Chong questioned an award of $4,900 to the Greater Portland Immigrant Welcome Center.

The group said it bought 20 software licenses for its digital English Language program and helped 20 asylum seekers connect with resources in other communities.


However, Chong noted that free programs exist in the community, including the Portland Public Library, Portland Adult Education and Salvation Army, and that the nonprofit LearningWorks provided a similar service for 24 asylum seekers for only $480.

“I’m scratching my head,” Chong said.

Jennings said staff would look into Chong’s concerns, but staff generally trusts the applicants, though staff does push back on questionable requests.

“It is very, very difficult at times,” he said.

Other groups to receive funding are:

• Catholic Charities of Maine ($5,675) for cultural orientation, referrals to case management and ongoing support;

• Greater Portland Health ($4,671) for for providing health care to 876 asylum seekers in addition to medical supplies, immunizations and other services;

• Greater Portland Metro Transit District ($6,075) for 350, 10-ride bus tickets;

• The Wayside Food Programs ($5,000), for delivering 7,000 meals to 400 people.

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