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1.4: Strategies for Working with Undocumented and Refugee Families
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1.4: Strategies for Working with Undocumented and Refugee Families


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1.4: Strategies for Working with Undocumented and Refugee Families …

1.4: Strategies for Working with Undocumented and Refugee Families

Presented by Rachele King, Minnesota Council of Churches (Minneapolis, MN) and Hyojin Im, University of Minnesota - Twin Cities.

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  • 1. 1 HOMELESSNESS AND HOUSING INSTABILITY AMONG REFUGEE FAMILIES IN TWIN CITIES Rachele King, Minnesota Council of Churches & Hyojin Im, University of Minnesota – Twin Cities* Acknowledgement to Heading Home Hennepin, Refugee Housing Council,Annie E. Casey Foundation and Minnesota Family Housing Fund
  • 2. Refugees come to Minnesota having survived 2unimaginable trauma. Imagine for a moment: You flee your homeland… You survive… You don’t know what your future holds… You struggle… You are offered an opportunity… You are told that you will be going to Minnesota... You don’t know … You hope…
  • 3. 3Definition of Refugee A person who has been forced to flee his/her homeland and is unable to return because she or he has experienced persecution or has a well- founded fear of persecution.
  • 4. 4Persecution based on: Race Religion Nationality Membership of a particular social group Political opinion
  • 5. 5 The Life of a Refugee Stuck in limbo Little or no opportunity to pursue education or stable employment Residing in refugee camps with unsafe conditions  Violence  Disease
  • 6. 6The Life of a Refugee Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya
  • 7. 7 Refugee Realities: Refugees often stay inprotracted refugee situations for years or even decades. Less than ½ of 1% of are permanently resettled globally in a year. Photo Courtesy of UNHCR
  • 8. 8Kakuma, Kenya
  • 9. 9 Refugee resettlement is a HumanitarianProgram of the US Government through the Department of State (PRM) Home country is unwilling or unable to protect them. The place they live does not offer a durable solution.
  • 10. Being approved to come to the 10 USA Several interviews by Non governmental organizations Department of Homeland security – Refugee Corps interviews to determine refugee status DNA testing (New) Security checks Health screenings Cultural orientation Travel Loan
  • 11. Nine national agencies contracted by the US Department of State11 to provide “initial reception and placement” services to newly arrived refugees through an allocation process..
  • 12. Every primary refugee arrival arrives through a 12 resettlement agency.
  • 13. “Refugee” or “Asylee” is a distinct 13immigration status in the USA Work authorized upon arrival Indefinite status upon arrival Path to US Citizenship Eligible for benefits, like a US Citizen. Specialized services may be available (vary from state to state).
  • 14. 14 26 nationalities we have worked with since 2007. Afghanistan  Nigeria  Ukraine Burma  Somalia  Uzbekistan Bhutan Vietnam  Sudan  Cambodia  Tibet  Moldova Democratic Republic of Congo  Togo  Zambia Eretria  Uganda  Zimbabwe Ethiopia Hmong Iraq Indonesia Kenya Liberia Nepal
  • 15. 15What happens when…… your hopes are not realized?What happens if your housing is not sustainable?What happens when you are not able to support your family?What happens when you are unsure how to best help your children?What happens when your hope fades?
  • 16. 16The first refugee homeless crisis in MN In 2006 60 refugee families moved to a local shelter. The response: The MN Council of Churches Refugee Supportive Housing Network (RSHN) : A successful model of helping the most vulnerable among us achieve Housing Stability. Since that time, MCC has worked with more than 200 refugee families (more than 1,000 individuals) who were homeless, or at risk to become homeless.
  • 17. A story17  “UNHCR brought us to the U.S. and to North Carolina on October 27th in 2009. We didn‟t know anybody and there aren‟t many Somalis there. Only about 10 Somalis [were in town]. They were all busy running after their lives and jobs. The resettlement agency paid for rent for the first six months and then we were asked to pay rent. We were getting $300 for public assistance and the rent was $650. [......] Life there was hard as we didn‟t have any support. It was OK until my child got sick and we didn‟t have anybody to help us. We didn‟t have diapers for kids for 3 months because no one helped us. [......] We heard about Minnesota and borrowed money from mosque for bus fare although knowing no one here [in Minnesota]. A Somali taxi driver let us sleep with them for one night and dropped us off here [in the homeless shelter] in the next morning.” (43, a Somali man with 4 kids and a wife, who resettled in October 2009)
  • 18. Homeless Refugees?18 “It may be the first case like this,” State Refugee Coordinator Marlene Myers said this week, “but it won‟t be the last.” First a refugee now homeless (Nov. 28th, 2009, News & Records)
  • 19. Refugee Families Struggling with Housing19  Increase in housing insecurity and homelessness among refugee populations  Few empirical studies or reports on refugee housing issues in the U.S.  Little is known about current status, etiology, unique challenges or risk/preventive factors of refugee homelessness: “Hidden homelessness”  Policy gap: No housing policy specific for refugee populations
  • 20. Community-Based Research20  Growing needs to understand:  currentstatus of housing insecurity among refugees  unique challenges and risk factors for homelessness among refugee families  How to serve homeless refugee families (culturally responsive service provision)  How to intervene and prevent refugee homelessness (policy intervention)
  • 21. Community-Based Research21  Refugee Housing Council & Heading Home Hennepin collaborated with University of Minnesota School of Social Work and Center for Urban and Regional Affairs  Survey with 250 refugees from five ethnic groups, Somali, Karen, Hmong, Liberian & Oromo, who reside in Twin Cities (March – May 2008)  Interviews with 17 homeless refugee families (Somali, Hmong, Congolese, Iraqi & Sudanese) in a private homeless shelter in Minneapolis (April 2010)
  • 22. Housing Stability: Length of stay (1st, 2nd and current places)22 Duration in the 1st place Duration in the 2nd place Duration in current place 7.0 4.4 7 3.3 6 2.7 5 2.2 4.9 4 0.9 3.6 3.1 3 2.5 2 0.6 2 3.1 1 1.6 1.9 1.7 0 0.6 0.8 Yrs Somali Hmong Karen Liberian Oromo Total
  • 23. Housing Stability: Move frequency and time taken to own house23 Move frequency Time taken to live in "own" place* Number of housing crisis (yrs) 3.5 3.35 4.5 4.16 4 3 2.54 2.48 2.54 3.5 2.5 2.34 3 2 2.5 1.62 1.82 1.5 2 1.36 1.32 1.5 1 1.07 1 0.5 0.3 0.3 0.5 0.3 0.2 0.5 0.2 0.1 0 0 Somali Somali Hmong Hmong Oromo Oromo Total Total Karen Karen Liberian Liberian * The meaning of living in “own” place differs from a respondent’s perception and understanding. It does not only refer to “buying a house and legally own the property” but also includes the meaning of “paying rent for the house themselves.”
  • 24. Housing Stability: Reason for moving24
  • 25. Housing Stability: Housing crisis25 Crisis doubleup shelter discord no_crisis No crisis 100% 7% 90% 18% 14% 19% 29% 25% 80% no 70% crisis 60% 79% 50% 40% 30% discord double 20% shelter 4% up 10% 6% 11% 0% Somali Hmong Oromo Total Karen Liberian
  • 26. Housing Stability: The greatest difficulty in finding a house26 Language barrier Small APT No proper house available Cant live with all family members Others Expensive rent Language barrier Expensive rent 28% 41% Small APT No proper house 18% available 10% Others Cant live with all 2% family members 1%
  • 27. Social Services & Help-Seeking: Help-seeking intention & helping sources27 100% 90% Myself & others 80% People in my church or 70% mosque County social service 60% program Community non-profit 50% agency Resettlement agency 40% 30% Friends and neighbors 20% Family or relatives 10% 0% helping source for helping source for current house housing problem
  • 28. Social Services: Barriers to using social services28 Bad experience Lack of cultural understanding Lack of info on services Cant trust Not very helpful Language barrier Not very Lack of info Cant trust helpful on services 4% 10% 17% Lack of cultural understandin g Language 17% Bad barrier experience 41% 11%
  • 29. What survey informed includes:29  Stability of refugees‟ first housing is associated with future success in housing.  Help-seeking intention and trust is negatively associated with accessibility to social services  Newly resettled refugees have more expectations and trust in social services, but also more language barriers and transportation issues that bar social service access. They also have less informal social support.  The longer refugees stay in the U.S., the less they trust social service agencies and develop more informal helping-sources.  Housing is too expensive to solve informally.  Lack of ethnic community‟s support matters.  Marginalized groups. e.g. Togolese
  • 30. An Ecology of Migration and Resettlement30 Pre-migration Post- Migration Social (War & (refugee migration Political Integration camps) (Resettlement) Violence)
  • 31. Unique Risk Factors (Pre-Migration)31  Traumatic events  “It was very scary during the move from Laos to Thai. All I could recall was my head kept dipping in the water preventing me from seeing much. I could hear the gun shots and see the sparks when a shot was fired. If a person was hit by the bullet, that person is dead.” (40, a Hmong single mother with 9 children recalling when she was 7)  Family separation of loss of family  “During the war, I was separated from my kids for one year. My four older boys got lost and my late husband went back to the war zone to find them. Eventually, I found my 4 older boys, but my husband died when he went back to look for them.”
  • 32. Pre-migration32 Different housing/residential culture  “There are major differences in the systems. Back home if you find a place, you can move in the same day and pay the deposit at the end of the month. Here you have to do a background check, rent history and must pay the first month‟s rent and deposit on the same day.”  “I was born in camp and have never paid a rent. The facility was very poor but it was just stable. I‟ve never worried about a place to stay at least. I didn‟t expect to pay a rent before (coming here).”  “The place we lived in the refugee camp was a semi-permanent structure that isn‟t suitable for any human being. What we have here is more decent. But the issue is stability. We didn‟t feel any pressure and restriction in the camp. We were free although the conditions were pathetic. Children were free to play wherever they want and they were familiar with everything.”
  • 33. Risk factors - Migration33  No real life – lack of education, no job skills, etc.  “There was really no good life in the refuge camp. We were not living and we were not dead. We were afraid constantly of either going to jail or being killed. Nobody can visit you there. Here we found safety which is very important for us. So in a sense we traded safety to become homeless.” (44, a Somali male with 7 children and a wife)  “What we could do was just sewing. That was the only work that we could find in the camp. I couldn‟t find that kind of job here [in the U.S.], so I am still struggling. I even cannot read a letter and cannot speak English.” (40, a Hmong mother with 9 children)
  • 34. Migration34  Mistrust in health professionals  “My uncle had taken his daughter to the hospital and brought her back dead a couple of days later. She couldnt have died. She only had a bad headache. They [Thai doctors/nurses] must have killed her for her organs or blood. We will never know.”
  • 35. Resettlement - Arrival35  Relief and gratitude  “[when I first came to the U.S.] I was happy and did not expect to have any problems with finding a home. I was grateful to the U.S. because I didn‟t have a husband and Americans seemed to become my extended family.” (45, A single Somali women with 7 children)  Gap between expectations and realities  “We were happy for a little bit, then we realized the housing problem and then we were really stressed. The older kids would see me upset and wondering where we would all end up. And then, they start to worry. They told me it was better in the refugee camp because we had free shelter and why I brought them here.” (Somali parents with 7 children)
  • 36. Resettlement – Early stage36  Language barriers  No transportation  Lack of information/orientation  Lack of support: We came to the U.S. on November 11th, 2009 at St. Louis, MO. The international Institute helped us move to an apartment. When they paid for the first 2 months they told us to pay from then on. We were getting $500 cash from the government and the rent was $800. There were nobody to help buy groceries, we had food stamp but my kids were hungry because we did not know where to find a grocery store and how to get there. ” (wife-41 and huband-44 with 7 children, staying in the U.S. for 5 months)
  • 37. Resettlement – Early stage37 Barriers to service access  “We had access to health care there provided by UNHCR. If there is lack of health care it is in the U.S. not in the refugee camps.” (43, Somali man with 4 children, who has stayed in the U.S. for six months) No cultural community/ lack of interpretation services  “There were only ten Somalis in town. I couldn‟t get an interpreter at the hospital when my kid was sick.” Loss of social support (even from camp)  “We got along with the residents of the camp. They were all Somali. We relied on each other. They would give you food when you run out and vice versa. They were there for us and we were there for us when needed. Now I have no one with me.”
  • 38. Resettlement – Early stage38  Loss of social support  “I don‟t have a chance, time, energy or transportation to maintain a social life. It‟s just me and my kids. ...... In my country, you had a chance to socialize, but there is just no time in America. Twelve hours here is like one hour back home. It is because I have no help. Help even comes in the form of social activity, but nobody has time here because they are busy with their own lives.”
  • 39. Resettlement – Secondary migration39 Unable to get proper services/interventions  “Arizona was our first settlement when we came to the US. The agencies that resettled us had prepared an apartment for us in which they paid the rent for the first three month. The kids were enrolled in school and were away the most part of the day. It was a very strange and new environment for us at first. I didn‟t know where to start life. I wanted to work and support my family both here and back home but wasn‟t able to. The three months ended and I had to come up with half of the four month rent which was $310. I didnt have any means in mind to pay that amount. I then decided to leave for Minnesota and even then didn‟t have any means to travel. The few Somalis we met there helped and contributed to our bus fare to Minnesota.”
  • 40. Secondary migration40  “I first arrive in Portland, Maine. I left Maine because I got sick and needed help with my disabled son, so I was looking for Somalis. I came to Boston to have surgery [for my son]. When I had surgery, people tried to take my kids from me so I got scared. There were no interpreters and no Somalis. I went to Boston because I was told I would find a good doctor for my disabled son, but I didn‟t end up finding one. I regret leaving Maine because I was given a 5 bedroom home with a ramp. ... ... When I came to Boston, I went to a shelter and the welfare office. The welfare office put us in a hotel that resembled a shelter, and it was expensive so the government took us to „western hotel‟‟. We stayed there for 4 months and we could not get a home because of the same issue that we had in Maine. Finally a few Somali families put some money together for us so that we could come to Minnesota. When I came to Minnesota, I encountered problems of conflict because 8 people cannot live in one family. ... ... I have been looking for a house for 4 months.” (38, A single Somali mother with 7 sons)
  • 41. Resettlement – Later stage41 Loss of job  “I worked for the company for six years. A new manager didn‟t like me and he fired me. When I tried to find a new job, he refused to write a reference letter for me. I applied for so many jobs but couldn‟t find one. I was kicked out three months after then.” (41, a Congolese mother with 3 children, who have stayed in the U.S. for 10 years) Family conflict (domestic violence)  “My husband did not only steal my bank card where welfare for my kids deposit, but also threatened my brother whom I lived together and said he would kill him [my brother] if he wouldn‟t leave the house by that night. I left the house with three of my kids that night.”
  • 42. Resettlement – Later stage42  Family conflict (due to cultural issues)  “After I got married to him [who is a Christian], my family don‟t talk to me. My mom and my brothers believe in shamanism. It took almost five years to have conversation with my mom but I don‟t feel really close to her. Maybe so does she. My brother lives in a four- bedroom house with his wife. But they don‟t know me that I am staying in this place [homeless shelter].” (38, a Lao women with 3 kids, who stayed in the U.S. for 26 years)
  • 43. Living as a homeless43  “In the refugee camps, we only had to had fear and hunger. We have to pay off the crops. However, we are worst of here [in the U.S.] because we don‟t know the language, we can‟t defend ourselves. My children get beat up but they get in trouble because they can‟t speak the language.” (42, a Somali father of 8 children)
  • 44. Living in a shelter44  Strict regulations & distress  “It [the shelter] is obviously better looking than what we called home for 19 years [refuge camps]. But it‟s not restful at all and I would say our shanty hut was more restful because we didn‟t have to worry about being kicked out the following morning. Because of the strict rules, I have to constantly monitor the children‟s movement and make sure they don‟t raise their voices high enough to attract attention, make sure they don‟t jump around and break anything that will have us kicked out. These restrictions have really put me and the children in a prison-like confinement. I barely get any sleep because of worrying about the situation.” (38, Somali single woman with 7 sons including one with physical disabilities)
  • 45. Impact of housing insecurity45  Mental health issues (both parents and children)  “The only thing I would say is (that) worrying is unstableness of shelter. We are stressed and constantly worried about when our time will expire and be kicked out of the shelter.” (38, a Hmong mother with eleven children)  “We were practically helpless when we were told to pay a half of the fourth month‟s rent in Arizona. I didn‟t have any way of paying that amount by myself. The kids looked wary and always asked what would happen next. I learned through people that I would find more community support in Minnesota and therefore decided to pack and leave for Minnesota.” (41, a single Somali mother with seven children)
  • 46. Impact of housing insecurity46  Negative change in family relationships  “They [my kids] perceive me differently because I tend to be extra harsh and strict on them about playing around and touching things that might result in us being kicked out of this place. I‟m forced to keep a constant eye on them.”  Distrust in service systems  “There are a lot of empty houses out there. There is not a single small one for me and my kids. Company can give you a hard time. School teachers give you a hard time. Neighbors give you a hard time. America gives you a hard time.”
  • 47. Strengths and Preventive Factors47  Survivals of tremendous atrocities  Stable family systems before migration (resilience)  Children with great resilience and cultural adjustment (a “cultural broker” between parents and social systems)  Informal helping sources within the community (ex. extended families and/or clan)  Connected with social system (until losing the connection after benefits are over)
  • 48. Implications48  Refugee homelessness is better understood in the contexts of forced migration and resettlement process.  Unique backgrounds of each refugee group should be considered  Integral policy and services for supporting resettlement process  Health/mental health, education, employment & acculturation are highly associated with housing  Culturally sensitive housing support  Understand family structure, strengthening refugee community
  • 49. Implications49  Understanding change in needs  Early stage (arrival – less than a year)  transportation, language & social support for service access  cultural orientation  secondary migration  Integral services (ex. Case management)  Later stage (after five years)  more resources  Trust  strengthening families and communities
  • 50. Toward Stable Housing50 • Culturally responsive, Linking integral policy intervention • Services relevant to Policy/Services changing needs • Connecting resources Bridging between refugee and host communities Communities • Intercultural capacity building • Informal social support Bonding matters (building healthy community) Families • Strengthening families in social integration process
  • 51. RSHN Success Stories: Fartun51  Fartun is a 24 year refugee mother who was trying to support her three young children while her husband tried to find work in another state. Through RSHN she was able to save her housing, which helped create the stability she needed to be able to attend school and search for a job. Within 5 months Fartun found employment and has maintained it since. What I find most astonishing is how Fartun has been able to rebound from some very unfortunate events and gain strength and self-confidence with each one. Weeks after finding employment her husband was killed in a car accident. Fartun has since moved to a new apartment, gotten her driver‟s permit and is practicing for her driver‟s test, and has improved her English skills. In the 11 months Fartun has been in this program she has gone from very, very limited English to helping her case manager and others interpret for other clients during home visits and workshops. She attends our Women‟s Group and helps other women in similar situations find the resources they need to improve their situations. Despite her hardships, her self- confidence continues to soar.
  • 52. RSHN Success story: Hibaq52  Hibaq was a 20 year old refugee woman who was living on the street when she was enrolled into RSHN. Every night she would find a different friend‟s car to sleep in while she applied and waited to be approved for housing. She was moved into housing a month later. Since she moved into housing 3 months ago she has gone from no English to having basic conversation with her case manager in English. She attended Ready for Success and received clothing and quickly found a part time job. Although her employment ended due to her FedEx branch closing, she has been meeting with her employment counselor multiple times a week to find a new income. She attends our Women‟s Support Groups and is always waiting at the door when we pick her up. All of this shows her progress on her goals, but what I find the most impressive is the level of self-confidence she has gained from this experience. Hibaq now walks around with a light in her eyes that was absent when she was enrolled. She has absolutely blossomed during her participation in this program!
  • 53. RSHN Success: “Moua”53  In 2006, at age 17, “Moua” arrived to the United states with his parents and 4 younger siblings. Three years later, when he was 20, both of his parents died in a car crash and he and his 18 year old wife became guardian of his younger siblings ages 9,11,13 and 15 years old. When MCC met “Moua” and his wife in November of 2009 they were expecting their first child at any moment. They moved into an affordable 3 bedroom apartment secured through the RSHN program the day their child was born. “Moua” and his wife and siblings were all born in a refugee camp in Thailand. This was the first permanent housing of their lifetime. In April of 2011 the family graduated from the RSHN program due to increase in income. Prior to being housed by the RSHN program, the family lived together in a shelter for nearly one year. As of today, they remain in the first and only house they have ever been able to call home.
  • 54. 54  Contact Information  Rachele King (  Hyojin Im (  Disclaimer: Some of the contents are under publication and protected by copy rights from the publisher. Please contact Hyojin Im to use or cite any part of the slides 17 – 50. Thank you!