BRUNSWICK — Town officials are working on a plan to meet the critical needs of more than a dozen asylum seekers who came to Brunswick in recent weeks, and for the dozens more who may be on the way.

A task force charged with helping the asylum seekers held its first meeting Wednesday to set priorities and organize available services.

Since June, hundreds of asylum seekers have entered Maine, primarily from Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo, fleeing violence and persecution. Portland officials set up an emergency shelter in the Portland Exposition Building, which will close by Aug. 15. Officials there have placed families in several Greater Portland towns, including Brunswick.

Brunswick Town Manager John Eldridge told task force members they must determine the expectations of the families, the resources available to the town, and “how to marry the resources to those expectations.”

The first and one of the most important steps is for the town to hire a cultural broker who can help ease the transition process for these families and direct them to services, members decided.

Mufalo Chitam, executive director of the Maine Immigrants’ Rights Coalition, said her organization could recommend a broker.

The next step is to create a resource center to connect asylum seekers with services. Task force members are working to secure space at the Brunswick Landing Recreation Center, as most of the families will be housed at Brunswick Landing and can easily walk to the rec center.

Task force members must then organize those services and create a web of local and state organizations available to help. Some of the services in place in Portland might be able to extend to Brunswick, Chitam said.

Sarah Singer, a school board member who is on the task force, urged the group to “give the immigrant community a seat at the table.” The task force should “have strong guidance from the immigrant community,” she said, “not the other way around.”

There are many groups in the community who provide support to families in need, Singer said, but who may not have worked with asylum seekers before. Portland Family Promise is hosting a training Friday to teach people how to effectively work with asylum seekers and how to volunteer. This initial training is from noon to 1:30 p.m. at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Brunswick.

Portland Interim Social Services Director Aaron Geyer said 379 people have checked into the Expo since June 9. On Monday night, 229 individuals were staying there, and 38 families, totaling 106 individuals, have been placed in housing in Portland, Westbrook, Brunswick, Buxton, Yarmouth and Bath. Of those, 22 arrived in Brunswick in the last few weeks (four have since left), nearly a month ahead of schedule.

Chris Rhoades, a housing developer with Brunswick Landing Venture, offered rent-free assistance for at least three months to some of the families on two of its vacant properties. There are another 10 units on the landing that can accommodate more families, Chris Robbins, community director of Brunswick Landing Venture, said Wednesday. Other landlords and Brunswick residents have also offered and accepted migrant families needing a place to stay, some through host home programs that are still being coordinated.

Eldridge said recently that the town has been inundated with people who want to help, with more than 60 people emailing and calling the town offices to offer volunteer services. Other groups and organizations have also received many offers of assistance. Local organizations like The Emergency Action Network, Midcoast New Mainers Support Group, Midcoast Hunger Prevention Program, Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority and state organizations like Maine Immigrant Rights Coalition have also stepped up to offer services.

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