BRUNSWICK — Nearly 100 asylum seekers have relocated to Brunswick since June, according to Town Manager John Eldridge, and in order to serve the nearly two-dozen school-aged children enrolled in Brunswick Schools, the school department has hired three new staff members, a cost of nearly $200,000.

The new English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) teacher and two resource assistants join one existing ESOL teacher and two other resource assistants in the department, according to Superintendent Paul Perzanoski.

Graca Katumba, 8, plays in the courtyard of her home in Brunswick, as seen in this September photo. Her parents are seeking asylum in the U.S. Derek Davis/Portland Press Herald

For years, the language program has been serving students somewhat “under the radar,” Assistant Superintendent Shawn Lambert said in August, but is starting to “ramp up” under Director Emily Darby. They have a practical approach based on individual student needs, he said, and with the sudden increase over the summer, ‘it “takes (Darby’s) work and puts it to the front burner.”

During Monday night’s town council meeting, Town Manager John Eldridge told the council that the school department requested an additional $200,000 be made available, but that “because amending a school budget has some complexities,” the intent is to “simply acknowledge that the department’s balance will be drawn down and may need to be replenished” during the next budget season.

In August, Darby and members of Midcoast Literacy lead three concurrent English language instruction groups at Curtis Memorial Library to kickstart the learning process for the new arrivals. Since then, several more families have arrived.

The families are primarily from the Democratic Republic of Congo and Angola. They speak Portuguese, French and Lingala.

According to Eldridge, “The families and the schools seem to be adjusting well.”

A RAPIDLY EVOLVING SITUATION

Brunswick officials found out in June that “as many as 40” asylum seekers who were being housed at the Portland Expo, the city’s temporary emergency shelter, could relocate to Brunswick. The first week, 12 people arrived, then 10 more followed. Months later, the numbers continue to grow.

Four more families moved in this week, bringing the total up to 22 families, three of which are with a program called Diversity Visa and will be moving to Texas soon, according to Cultural Broker Nsiona Nguizani. He did not know if people will continue to move to Brunswick. As Eldridge said in August, “Things have continued to evolve very rapidly.”

The town hired Nguizani, an immigrant himself, in August to orchestrate the transition and help the families navigate the new landscape.

The families are doing well with the transition, Nguizani said in an email Thursday, but not as well as he was expecting.

“Every time we have new families, we have to go back and rebuild everything for them,” he said. “In the meantime, the rest of the group is stagnating, we waste time and everything is delayed.”

Most of the families’ major needs are being met, including housing, food and bus passes, though transportation and language remain barriers.

“At this point, we really need to hire a driver if possible in order for us to be efficient,” he said.

Eldridge told the council Monday that they are looking to use the Volunteer Transportation Network from People Plus on top of existing public transportation to get the families to and from Brunswick Landing.

The Volunteer Transportation Network is a free, volunteer-based ride-share program to help people get where they need to go. Last year, the program provided 486 riders with 2,266 rides from 78 drivers, Stacy Frizzle, People Plus director told The Times Record in March. Right now, the program is intended to help people who live at home without access to a lot of services. “Some are legally blind and can’t drive or are recovering from surgery, or have financial restrictions” that do not allow them to have a car. “We don’t ask those questions,” she said at the time. “We don’t care what your reason is.”

The drivers are already vetted and have undergone background checks, making it an ideal partnership, Eldridge told the council.

There have been unanticipated costs associated with laundry, Eldridge said. The houses at Brunswick Landing do not have washers and dryers.

For about 20 families, “the cost of utilizing a laundromat is high,” Eldridge said. “If we can find a location, we would hope to install washers and dryers.”

“Concretely or indirectly, the biggest need is money,” Nguizani said.

The town established a community support fund on GoFundMe last month to help the families, which has to date raised $9,605.

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