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Influx of asylum seekers prompts additional town contribution to Portland area agencies

Prompted by the recent influx of individuals and families seeking asylum in Portland, the Town Council on July 8, 2019 voted to appropriate $5,000 from undesignated funds to the Opportunity Alliance and $5,000 to Preble Street, two local service agencies already supported by the town.

In addition, councilors directed Town Manager Matthew Sturgis to look in to what programs Community Services might be able to offer, and whether the town's Thomas Jordan Trust might be a resource for Cape Elizabeth residents providing housing to those seeking asylum.

Placed on the July 8 agenda to update the council on regional efforts to aid those seeking asylum, councilors spent an hour discussing options for helping the city of Portland respond to the social-service challenges. The agreed-upon donations, in the view of many councilors, represent a strengthened commitment to support vulnerable populations in Greater Portland, and follow Portland city manager Jon Jennings' recommendations that communities wishing to help work through existing social-service agencies.

"We're giving it to an entity that we have historically supported, as an attempt to shoulder our share of the burden of the crisis in the greater Portland area – not for this group in particular, but for all of the greater community," said Councilor Chris Straw, explaining his rationale for supporting the appropriation.

The town Human Services budget lists 13 social service agencies receiving support totaling $24,510 for 2019-20, not counting the $30,000 budgeted for general assistance. Agencies in the Human Services budget generally see an increase in contributions from the town of 2 percent annually, including Opportunity Alliance, which was budgeted to receive $1,400 from Cape Elizabeth this fiscal year.

Preble Street, said Town Manager Matthew Sturgis, is part of the Opportunity Alliance funding umbrella.

At the council's next meeting in August, Sturgis is expected to report on any opportunities that might be available through Community Services programming; and, on possible use of the Thomas Jordan Trust, established to help the poor of Cape Elizabeth under the 1825 will of Thomas Jordan. "Where I see the spirit of the trust being applied is, if there is a Cape family in need to deliver whatever service they're going to provide to these people," said Garvin. The terms of the trust may not allow it, he said, but, "I just think it's worth looking in to."

Local newspapers have reported on residents in the Portland area, including Cape Elizabeth, offering to host asylum seekers. Others in town are helping in less visible ways, including the Recycling Center volunteer who, said Garvin, is actively sorting through items left at the Swap Shop and directing them and taking them to where asylum seekers would benefit. "I'm amazed at the level of effort that this woman is putting in," Garvin said.

The town also was host to a group at Fort Williams Park on the Fourth of July, waiving the approximately $225 fee to reserve the picnic shelter for the afternoon. The event was a celebration quickly organized for the asylum seekers by a group from South Portland, and, said Sturgis, the picnic shelter had not been otherwise reserved for that day.