Sanford Springvale News Banner

Copyright © 2024 – Sanford Springvale News – All rights reserved.

Desperate Aid Agency Tries to Stem Flow of Immigrants

immigrant families belongings

At Quality Inn, a family that had been living in Sanford for the past week awaits a bus ride to a Portland shelter.

Photo: submitted

By Lee Burnett, Submissions Editor

The anti-poverty agency that has worked non-stop since last May to find housing for immigrants in Sanford sent out an urgent plea on Tuesday in an attempt to stem the influx.

“At this time, I do not have housing availability for any new families arriving unannounced in Sanford,” read the WhatsApp message from Jennifer Davie, the chief housing navigator for York County Community Action Corp. “It is very important that you inform friends and family that they should not come to Sanford unannounced.”

The message was sent to all asylum seekers, who have been arriving in droves since last May. The population has doubled since the initial influx and now stands at 240 or more, overwhelming the churches, volunteers and agencies trying to get them settled. Some 55 families are on a waiting list for apartments, according to YCCAC. That includes asylum seekers as well as the local population of unhoused people living in tents or cars or couch surfing.

Three immigrant families that had arrived just last week and were living at Quality Inn in South Sanford were evicted when their housing vouchers from the General Assistance Program expired, suddenly leaving them with nowhere to go in Sanford. “I’m standing here at the Quality Inn with 14 people – three families – waiting for a bus from Curtis Lake to take them to Portland,” Rachel Phipps, the assistant director of economic opportunity, explained on Tuesday. She said the only option was busing the families to the YMCA shelter in Portland, which had recently reopened. “We literally have nothing to offer them.”

Fourteen people were bused to the YMCA Shelter in Portland, which opened at 4 p.m. Tuesday. “By the time we left at 5 they were already turning people away.”

One of the people who has most felt the burden of settling new arrivals is Heidi Barker, a volunteer who has thrown herself full-time into the role. “I keep thinking things will be better next week,” she said. “That’s what keeps me going…if we could just get back to where we were. We were doing well getting them into jobs.” The continuing influx seems to be driven by Sanford’s reputation for being welcoming, said Barker. New arrivals tell friends and families about their experience. Word gets around. “I asked a family how they chose Sanford. They said when they came into Boston, everybody said ‘go to Sanford.’ They’re getting that word as soon as they arrive. That’s the message. “

Stemming the tide will be difficult because the General Assistance Program, by law, must provide temporary relief to all comers as long as eligibility guidelines are met, Barker explained. “GA can’t stop,” she said. “We had to put a stop to our portion. We can’t do any more.” Many new arrivals speak little English. Being on their own means they will have no trained social workers or volunteers advocating on their behalf to navigate the various aid agencies and bureaucracies. These advocates have been instrumental in helping with transportation, permanent housing, kids’ vaccinations, English-language schooling, medical appointments and legal cases.

“Nobody can do it on their own,” explained Barker. Even families that are relatively settled need guidance to maintain their stability. Barker, for example, counsels families that they need two incomes to support a family, given the cost of living. If one family member takes a low-paying job it may not be enough to pay the rent, keep the heat on and buy groceries. Many asylum seekers have already settled in Sanford, but new arrivals will find few helping hands. Phipps stressed that “we absolutely need help. If people come, they will be on their own.”

Copyright © 2024 - Sanford Springvale News - All rights reserved. | CoverNews by AF themes.