BRUNSWICK, Maine — Since the beginning of 2023, hundreds of asylum seekers have come to Maine every month. The majority of that pressure has fallen on the Pine Tree State's largest city, Portland. Now, a midcoast community is on track to help.
From June through October, the town of Brunswick will be welcoming 60 asylum-seeking families to the area. According to town officials, they'll be living in five new buildings being built on the old naval air station base (or Brunswick Landing). Each building has 12 one- or two-bedroom units.
"It’s exciting. We’re an older state. We need young families. We need a workforce," Abby King, a town councilor, said.
King said in 2019, the town saw an initial influx of asylum seekers, with about 20 families total moving to the area. That trend came to a halt during the pandemic. King said the buildings these new asylum seekers will be living in will house them for two years. She said most of these asylum-seeking families have already been living in Maine.
"After the two years is up, half of [the units] will remain affordable housing, which is a big need in Brunswick, so that’s great. The other half will go to market rate," King said.
Town manager John Eldridge said he recognizes communities like Portland need some relief when it comes to accommodating New Mainers.
"There have just been so many families that are arriving in Portland now that I think it is overwhelming," Eldridge said, later adding, "It’s just not something one community can do, or even one region in the state can do."
Eldridge said the town's primary priority right now is coordinating resources and services to make sure help is as efficient as possible. Deb Crocker, the director of human services in the town, said she's also looking for local volunteers.
"Help families learn English, take families to their medical appointments, show families around their new surroundings," Crocker said about tasks people could do.
Midcoast New Mainers Group is one organization on the frontlines. Board chair Andree Appel said they're the only asylum seeker-specific group on the mid-coast between Freeport and Damariscotta.
"What we really want to do is focus on long-term sustainable programs that would enhance people's independence," Appel said.
That's also the goal of the Brunswick School Department. Chief education officer Suellyn Santiago said the school board has passed a budget with suggestions of hiring more teachers to teach English and more school counselors to address traumas among asylum-seeking students.
She said the budget is headed to the town council in the coming weeks, and then voters will get to voice their opinions in early June.
"It is a challenge," Santiago said about this adaptation. "Students are coming to us with a different lived experience and different sense of background knowledge and prior knowledge."
Santiago said they're not sure exactly how many new students to expect or where the students may be coming from, but they do anticipate there will be a lot of younger students.
"We need to help our teachers learn: How do you meet the wide range of learners who aren’t coming in all knowing the same thing and try to get them to grow and advance and learn to high levels?" Santiago said.
The town has a "Brunswick Community Support Fund" and is currently raising money to help asylum seekers furnish these apartments. You can learn more here.