When you think of IM, what comes to mind first is typically Meals on Wheels. But we do operate several other programs of critical importance to the city of Houston.
One of these is welcoming refugees. IM works to resettle newly-arrived refugees fleeing from religious, political, or social persecution to the city of Houston. Last year, Refugee Services resettled over 800 refugees from 16 countries.
But, how does this work? Where do these new neighbors come from, and how do they get here?
First, each and every one of our refugees is thoroughly vetted by the State Department, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), and the International Organization for Migration (IOM). Once a refugee is considered “cleared” for security and health purposes, his or her file is turned over to a Voluntary Agency such as Church World Service (CWS) or Episcopal Migration Ministries (EMM). These agencies then assign cases to IM and fund the resettlement process. This detailed and painstaking process can take a few months to one year or more.
IM Lends a Hand
Once here in Houston, IM’s job begins. A caseworker is assigned the case and this person begins his or her work by coordinating the setup of the family’s apartment. Because many of our refugees are persecuted in their home countries, they are often forced to flee in the middle of the night with only the clothes on their backs. This means that the setup procedure is very involved – everything from lamps to dishes to shower curtains to toothpaste must be furnished. Because refugee families often travel for days to get to Houston, a caseworker who speaks their language greets them at the airport, providing comfort to travelers during a difficult time. Many refugees have lived in poor conditions prior to arrival in Houston – either somewhere in the developing world, or more often, in refugee camps. Therefore, upon arrival at the family’s new apartment, the caseworker must explain things like electricity in kitchens or even running water to our newly-arrived refugees. IM’s caseworkers are responsible for every aspect of the resettlement process, but most importantly in welcoming our refugees and helping them to make Houston home.
At this point the clock is ticking. Though a small amount of money is provided to refugees at first, the family is expected to be employed and self-sufficient within six months. Caseworkers help refugees apply for jobs, fill out paperwork, begin ESL courses, and enroll children for school. Caseworkers also address the family’s medical needs and connect them with appropriate medical professionals. Overall, caseworkers act as a liaison and cultural guide for the family up to the first six months after arrival. And the numbers do not lie about this program’s effectiveness: Ninety-four percent of IM’s refugees are indeed self-sufficient within the six-month time frame required.