The late afternoon sun illuminated the sparse but cozy rooms on the upper-floor of the Christ Lutheran church in downtown Baltimore. The white walls are adorned with Afghan rugs, paintings or pieces of ceramic — most are furnished with a table and a computer or two.
These half a dozen-or-so rooms make up the newest Welcome Center: a space operated by the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services as a “one-stop shop” to connect foreign-born Americans to services they might need at any part of their immigration journey — although there is an emphasis on serving refugee and asylum seekers. The center had its official ribbon-cutting on Tuesday, but its staff and volunteers have already been hard at work for weeks getting new residents settled.
Those services could include anything from help with a court date for a new asylum seeker or connecting a longer-term resident with job training to freshen up their skills to advance up the economic ladder, explained Kevin Meadowcroft, manager of the Baltimore Welcome Center. “It’s sort of like the Maslow’s hierarchy of needs,” he said.
The staff has on-site caseworkers fluent in different languages including Spanish and Haitian-Creole. They can offer help with legal assistance, healthcare and housing, and there’s even a room where referred people can receive mental health counseling.
“That’s one thing that’s generally tough to access,” said Meadowcroft. “We’re really happy to have it here, because a lot of asylum seekers have experienced a lot of trauma on their journey and before their journey.”
Approximately eight percent of Baltimore City residents are immigrants. In Baltimore County that number is even higher at 12.3%, according to U.S. Census data. Maryland took in 450 refugees between October 2022 and May of 2023, according to the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program.