On a brisk Wednesday morning this fall, Chelsea Hoskins was at Eastpoint Christian Church in South Portland. There, she spent the day helping 57 new Mainers from a variety of countries — the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Angola, Haiti and more — as they gathered to learn more about how the city works.
Hoskins, 35, is the city’s refugee resettlement coordinator. It’s her job to guide events like these to ensure the families have access to transportation and can access immigrant services. Her planned itinerary began with guidance from Metro about navigating Portland’s public transportation, also included employment readiness programs, healthcare programs, and more.
“Think of someone getting their mail, [but] you can’t read your mail,” Hoskins said. “How do you take public transportation if you can’t read the bus maps? There’s so many different things that are challenging,” Hoskins said.
Doing this kind of work is exactly where Hoskins wants to be. She became the city’s resettlement coordinator last fall, and has been acting as a liaison between the city, arriving families and partner agencies, ever since. Before that, she worked for Spurwink Services as an education technician alongside students with autism, and then for Catholic Charities, helping adults struggling with mental health issues. She began working for the city and with Portland’s immigrant population in 2017.
The hardest part for Hoskins is when families face struggles that are outside of her control — whether it be timelines for permits or the lack of affordable housing.
Thankfully, the positives outweigh the daily stresses. Being able to ensure families can access the things they need is a reward in itself, but seeing immigrant families who have been in Portland for years joining in the work and lending a helping hand is the most rewarding thing to see, Hoskins said.
“The amount of collaboration it takes is insane,” she said. [“It’s] really amazing to see how people always step up to the plate — every single time,” she added.
Portland has seen a steady stream of asylum seekers and refugees arriving from other countries since the summer of 2019. The surge has strained city resources, officials say, and led to opening up more hotels to immigrants in nearby towns — at one point spreading across three counties. The work is expanded into surrounding communities and all their partners — Freeport Community Services, Heart of Biddeford and more — Hoskins said.