Friends of Refugees

A U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program Watchdog Group

Poor track record for Seattle agencies that help refugees find work – homelessness skyrockets

Posted by Christopher Coen on August 31, 2010

An article in the Seattle Times offers a window into current conditions for refugees in Washington State. Low-skill jobs are scarce and homelessness is skyrocketing. A one-night homeless count in January found 978 refugees and immigrants living in shelters or in transitional housing.

Refugee families…displaced people from war-torn parts of the world — are confronting homelessness all over again in their new homeland.

As tough to navigate as the homeless-support system can be for growing numbers of families in the Northwest, it can prove profoundly challenging for refugees, who may be unfamiliar with how the system works, may have few if any marketable job skills, often don’t speak English and don’t understand the culture here.

…”We are bringing people from refugee camps to get a new start in the U.S. only to see them Dumpster-diving somewhere,” said Tom Medina, who heads the state’s office of Refugee and Immigrant Assistance.

As part of the federal government’s commitment to helping displaced and persecuted people around the world, the U.S. will resettle about 80,000 refugees this year — about half the total number of those that get resettled across the globe.

Last year, some 2,600 — many of them Iraqis and ethnic minorities from Myanmar (also known as Burma) and Bhutan — came to Washington. The state is second only to Minnesota in drawing refugees who were first resettled in other parts of the U.S.

For many unable to find work, the housing shuffle begins when the government assistance they were receiving runs out, or their lease expires and the rent goes up, or the family dynamic changes in a way that they can no longer cover housing expenses.

In January, King County’s most recent annual one-night homeless count found families of refugees and immigrants that together totaled 978 adults and children living in shelters or in transitional housing — up from 638 the previous year.

That doesn’t account for the untold numbers who bed down in hotels, camp out in churches or squeeze into the already cramped apartments of friends or relatives.

Often, families that do have housing struggle to hang on to it… here

Local community-based groups that contract with the state to help refugees find work have a poor track record. In 2007, agencies placed 48 percent of refugees in jobs, but last year only 28 percent.

Together with state and local governments, the federal government invests heavily in helping refugees settle in.

Across the country, the State Department contracts with 10 agencies known as “volags” — short for voluntary agencies — to support refugees, helping them find housing, enroll their children in school, apply for benefits and look for work.

Separately, the federal government last year gave $4.2 million to Washington state and the state kicked in $4.6 million more. Washington, in turn, awards contracts to a network of community-based service providers to help refugees learn English, and get job training and other services.

In terms of direct financial help, refugees are eligible for cash assistance and food stamps — $360 per month for up to eight months for single adults. Families with children under 18 are eligible for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, known as TANF.

A family of three is eligible for $562 — higher than in all but 10 states — with the amount increasing about $100 for each additional eligible person, up to a maximum of $1,320.

Additionally, the federal government provides upfront cash for each arriving refugee — $1,100 per person.

…State Department officials acknowledge the current job market is creating a problem for many refugees but say that, as bad as things are in this country, conditions in the camps are even worse.

The federal government is studying how it might resettle people in areas of the U.S. where there are more available jobs. For example, with the recession coming to Washington later than other parts of the country, this region might have been one of those places.

But even in good times the community-based groups that contract with the state to help refugees find work have a poor track record.

In 2007, for example, 48 percent of refugees in the state were placed in jobs at an average hourly rate of $9.25. Last year, only 28 percent found work.

The article also mentions that President Obama will soon announce an increase in the number of refugees the US will accept next year.

The Obama administration is conducting the first major review of the nation’s 30-year-old resettlement program. But even before the findings are released, the administration is preparing to announce an increase in the number of refugees it will invite into the country next year.

State Department officials say refugees in camps overseas are told about the hard realities of the American economy, giving them the option to stay or go to another country.

But refugees themselves say that’s a tough call — that after years in squalid refugee camps, it’s hard to let go of their high hopes about life in America.

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One Response to “Poor track record for Seattle agencies that help refugees find work – homelessness skyrockets”

  1. maya said

    i am officially ill after reading this post. Recently, I was in Seattle where some refugees have lamented how they would like to return to their refugee camps.

    How can the American gov. get away with this? Leaving over 900 refugees, to find that their homes are nearly more unstable in the USA than in their home countries or refugee camps.

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