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Trying to make Lancaster, PA a model for refugee resettlement?

Posted by Ann Corcoran on December 2, 2012

That appears to be the goal of a new consortium of resettlement agencies and ‘stakeholders’ who have been roundly criticized in the past for “dumping refugees on Lancaster.”

Before you read the latest news from the overloaded city, be sure to check out this detailed post from last May which centered on testimony sent to the US State Department by a resident of Lancaster who charged that Church World Service (one of the top nine federal refugee contractors) was dumping refugees there.

They wouldn’t need to build this coalition or have a pow-wow if everything was peachy in Lancaster.  From Lancaster Online:

With a significant number of refugees coming to Lancaster County in recent years — including 560 in the 11 months from October 2011 to August 2012 — a Lancaster County Refugee Coalition has been formed to better coordinate services and support.

Susan Dicklitch, director of The Ware Institute for Civic Engagement at Franklin & Marshall College, said the coalition grew out of a conference hosted by F&M last March.

Sponsored by The Ware Institute, Church World Service of Lancaster and a student organization at Franklin & Marshall, the conference brought together more than 200 providers, employers, landlords and others who work with refugees, in such areas as health care or English literacy, she said.

“The idea was to provide a forum for those who interact with resettled refugees,” Dicklitch said.

Church World Service and Lutheran Refugee Services are the two agencies that resettle refugees in Lancaster County. Most of the recent arrivals have been from Bhutan, Myanmar (Burma), Iraq and Cuba. Refugees in the past have also come from Russia, Turkey, Sudan and Somalia.

During the conference, participants analyzed the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and challenges of how the county is resettling refugees, she said.

“We got a real sense of how to move forward” by doing that, Dicklitch said.

Previously, there hasn’t been enough communication among agencies and providers, or a centralized effort to streamline the resettlement process, she said.

By agreement with the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement, resettlement agencies have 90 days to provide core services to refugees, such as finding housing, Dicklitch said.

The goal of the Lancaster County Refugee Coalition — with The Ware Institute and CWS as the main partners —is to optimize the resettlement experience during that 90 days and beyond, she said, with an aim toward making this area “a national example” of how to integrate refugees.

Why Lancaster?  Because (we are told) that big manufacturing businesses need cheap/captive labor (they don’t say it that way but I do), there is apparently a good supply of welfare and healthcare and supposedly they have adequate affordable housing (or so we are told).

Today, refugee resettlement agencies view the county as an ideal spot for several reasons, Dicklitch said.

There’s a sizable manufacturing base here that allows for lower-skilled jobs, she said, and the cost of housing is relatively affordable.

Also, public transportation and health care resources are available, Dickitch said.

Not enough churches to help!

Then here is the one line in this lengthy warm and fuzzy story that made me laugh—they can’t find enough churches to help!

In addition, there traditionally have been a large number of co-sponsors (such as churches) for refugee families, although that number has been shrinking, she said.

Why shrinking!  How could that be?   It’s because when a church discovers the huge and overwhelming time commitment involved with dealing with excessive numbers of third worlders who don’t speak English, have very little education, don’t know how to live in modern countries, have enormous health care and transportation needs, the church “volunteers” burn out!

We saw that happen in Hagerstown, MD  in 2007 when this very same Church World Service and its subcontractor Virginia Council of Churches suddenly brought a couple hundred needy refugees (over-flows from Lancaster, PA btw) to the city.  A few churches and the local mosque immediately jumped on the opportunity only to mostly burn-out a few months into the project—the “charitable” work was going to be foisted off on to the county if the whole resettlement program hadn’t been abandoned.

So, how do you find an optimum number of refugees for a community—each refugee family should be sponsored and taken care of by a church or some other charitable organization on that organization’s dime.    In that way, the carrying capacity of a city will quickly be determined.  And, frankly, the refugees might then have a shot at assimilating into American life.

For more on Pennsylvania refugees and stats, go here.  Also, type ‘Lancaster’ into our search function here at RRW, we’ve got a lot.  You might especially like this post about the woman responsible for ‘transforming’ Lancaster.

One Response to “Trying to make Lancaster, PA a model for refugee resettlement?”

  1. When I first did some work with the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) in Lancaster in the early ’90s, they had some very hard rules they expected their proteges to abide by: They had to find work within 6 months, they had to get off welfare within a year, they had to take English classes, and they had to assume the rent payments after 6 months. Most of the refugees did their best to do this, and the Russian Christian refugees with whom I worked (evangelicals, nonorthodox) were able to create a cohesive community, establish churches and continue helping themselves. Few wind up in the legal system and are a burden to the tax-payers. Many of the Haitians who have settled here have done much better than the central Americans and the Africans, at least the non-Ethiopians (mostly Christians).
    Affordable housing, however? You get what you get, and many wind up in houses that are in crime-infested neighborhoods. I know of several families who are too scared to leave their homes. One family’s child got lead poisoning from living in a run-down slum on King Street in Lancaster.
    I don’t know what to say about the churches not helping. Many churches have food banks, clothing banks and operate nursery schools and day care centers.
    The Haitians have also established churches in the community and have been helpful. Perhaps they are helping outside of the government and Church World constrictions.
    Fast forward 20+ years: Most people I know who came here from Russia and Haiti have assimilated well, and their children are doing well here. But now, we are seeing an increasing number of sick people. A lot of mentally ill people and some of them are violent. (First hand experience with this). Lancaster is now, indeed, a dumping ground.


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