Jewish Family Services of Washtenaw County expects to have resettled about 163 refugees in the county by the conclusion of its fiscal year this fall, nearly doubling its previous year’s caseload, and plans to do so again in the coming year.
In a March interview with the Daily, JFS administrators said their resettlement target was still in the 80-person range. However, an uptick in the number of refugees the Obama administration chose admit this year — from an initial goal of 10,000 to 12,000 — led to a surge in demand for JFS’s services around May and June. These new arrivals will primarily be from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Somalia and Iran.
In an interview this week, Shrina Eadeh, JFS’s director of resettlement, said her organization plans to hire two new resettlement caseworkers in addition to its three current resettlement staff to accommodate the new demand. JFS has also received additional federal funding to meet the influx of new clients, as the organization is funded per each refugee it resettles.
Additionally, JFS will also no longer be the sole resettlement agency operating in the county. Samaritas — another national social service organization — announced in a September press release that it would be expanding its Ann Arbor foster care office and hiring a caseworker to handle the resettlement of 12 refugee families in the coming months.
Spokesperson Lynne Golodson said Samaritas plans to partner with JFS and other community organizations to help provide essential services to new arrivals.
When refugees arrive in the Ann Arbor area, they and their families work with a case manager on a daily basis for the next 90 days with the goal of self-sufficiency, JFS case manager Nathaniel Smith told the Daily in March.
Assistance includes help with registering for proper identification, school enrollment, initial medical screenings and employment services. Follow-up English language training and career services are also available for up to five years after arrival.
“We address a lot of different areas of the refugees’ life, getting them set up with all the things that they need to start functioning on their own here,” Smith said in March. “For the most part, they are close to being financially self-sufficient after 90 days.”
The biggest challenge with quadrupling JFS’s intake in two years, Eadeh said this week, has been finding adequate housing for newly arrived refugees due to concerns from property owners.
“(Refugees) have no background; they have very low income,” Eadeh said, adding that JFS has had several long-standing relationships with a number of property managers. “The next few months I’ll be reaching out to landlords and housing management companies to work with them and ensure that refugees who come will be able to receive housing.”
To further meet the demands of its quadrupled capacity, JFS has also expanded its partnerships with community groups, student organizations and faith-based congregations for volunteers and donations of food and furniture.
More than 200 volunteers have been signed up for orientation, Eadeh said, and will play a role in sorting donations, helping new arrivals move, writing welcome letters and helping with paperwork in the JFS office.
“Our local elementary, middle and high schools are trying to do what they can,” Eadeh said. “University (students) are pitching in to help, as well as synagogues, mosques and churches.”
One of these student volunteer organizations — the Michigan Refugee Assistance Program — was established this semester by LSA senior Nicole Khamis.
Khamis said she reached out to JFS in late February to offer help with fundraising, off-put by negative political rhetoric surrounding refugees. During the summer, she decided to expand the scope of her organization following the surge in new arrivals.
“I began thinking about doing something like this after the extremely negative rhetoric about refugees,” Khamis said. “So I started seeing we could assist locally in the biggest humanitarian crisis our generation is facing.”
Khamis said she screened and selected 40 other University students to act as volunteers for JFS. The students will assist by running errands, acting as ESL teachers and helping with appointments. While the student volunteers are still undergoing language and cultural training, Khamis said she hopes the first volunteer engagement can take place in the coming week.
In addition to refugee service, Khamis said an additional aim of her organization is to raise awareness of the global refugee issue on campus through donation drives, movie screenings and panel discussions with refugees.
“When you don’t meet somebody and you only hear hateful rhetoric about them, you form an opinion about them,” Khamis said. “Really I think that can only be broken by personal contact.”