City officials are participating in a task force with local resettlement agencies, among others, which are providing refugees newly arrived in Evanston with access to much-needed resources.
Evanston Development Director Mark Muenzer and Housing Policy and Planning Analyst Savannah Clement updated the City Council on the working group’s progress at the Council’s Feb. 13 meeting.
Among the organizations taking part in the working group, which first convened in December, are Catholic Charities, Heartland Alliance, RefugeeOne, and World Relief. School Districts 65 and 202 are also participating, as are the Evanston Police Department and the Parks & Recreation Department. About seven churches are also taking part, said Ms. Clement.
A major goal for the group has been identifying the major needs – among them clothing, housing, and durable goods, – for refugees. Some needs Ms. Clement specifically highlighted were cleaning supplies, diapers, bikes and strollers. She further emphasized that high school students were having difficulty accessing boots and coats during the winter.
Mental health services are also in great demand, since many refugees are contending with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). “In light of everything that’s happened with the executive orders, the PTSD has been worsened,” Ms. Clement added. “There’s a lot of fear about what’s going to be happening with these families, so that’s something we’re going to try to be mindful of.”
Many families feel isolated, and are unsure of how to get around or use services. Ms. Clement said that many would benefit from peer-to-peer mentorship, family sponsorship “or something to make them feel a little less alone and more welcome in the community.”
Mr. Muenzer said the number of refugees and immigrants is difficult to ascertain because of privacy issues. But there are about 100 students in Evanston schools from refugee households, he said.
“Those tend to have documented refugee status,” Mr. Muenzer added. “Obviously when you’re talking about undocumented refugees, that’s a more difficult number to ascertain.”
Among the nations refugees in Evanston hail from are Syria, Iraq, Congo, Rwanda, Chad, Sudan, and Nepal. Mr. Muenzer emphasized that not only are myriad countries represented, but an even greater multitude of languages and dialects are spoken.
“When we come into these challenges communicating with these refugees, we have this immediate barrier if they come from a country with a language or dialect not commonly spoken here,” he noted.
Ms. Clement is working on a program called Volunteer Evanston that matches up refugee needs with residents who want to provide assistance, adding that the program would be discussed more in-depth at the next Council meeting.
She added, “One of the silver linings of everything that’s happening is that people now really do want to help,” and that many Evanstonians are not aware that there are refugees in the City.
“If we can raise awareness and let people know that they can help, hopefully that would be really powerful,” said Ms. Clement.