Area groups seek to help resettle refugee 'to help them find a sustainable way of life'

Photo of Sandra Diamond Fox

Through a communitywide effort, a refugee family in January may be calling New Milford home.

The Washington Council of Congregations will host a community conversation at 3 p.m. Oct. 23 at the Judy Black Memorial Park and Gardens, 1 Green Hill Road, Washington Depot to gather feedback on interest in resettling a refugee family in New Milford.

Ways to volunteer and what services will be needed will be discussed at length.

Attendees will learn about Integrated Refugee & Immigrant Services and its role in co-sponsorship of refugee resettlement in Connecticut.

Geoffrey Hahneman of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Washington is spearheading the initiative with the Rev. Lisa DiNunno Hahneman of St. John’s Episcopal Church in New Milford.

Supporting the Washington Council of Congregations will be New Milford Refugee Resettlement, a group that has settled two refugee families in New Milford. Before deciding to resettle a refugee, the Hahnemans met with the leadership of the New Milford resettlement group to learn about its experience.

“They were so excited and we got so much of their excitement that we decided we wanted to go at least to the next stage,” Geoffrey Hahneman said. “We see it as not just settling this refugee family but building up the community and working together.”

Resettling a refugee: What it takes

Connecticut has about 40 IRIS co-sponsorship groups, according to irisct.org. The organizational process and the resources that IRIS provides in helping communities “is absolutely phenomenal,” Lisa Hahneman said.

She said IRIS has created a model that gathers a team who can help in multiple ways.

This team helps with finding housing, getting children registered for school, finding a translator, transportation, and medical and mental health services.

“There are about eight teams altogether,” Lisa Hahneman said. “We are looking at the assets within our community and bringing them all together.”

When the refugee family moves into an apartment, the community coalition group would sign their lease, put down the security deposit, and cover the first couple of months’ rent.

The entire process in resettling a family is designed to help them become self-sufficient. Within six months to a year of their arrival, they should have found employment and started paying rent.

“As they get settled, they qualify for federal and state subsidies, and they all have green cards so they can find work. So hopefully, within a few months, they’ve got work and they are now paying a portion of their income toward housing and by six months, it’s hope that there’s enough work that they are paying for their housing,” he said. “They would then take over the lease.”

A refugee family is usually a core family and housing generally consists of two to three bedrooms, Lisa Hahnamen said.

The refugee family would most likely live in New Milford.

“When we resettle families, we have to look at communities that have public transportation, job availability, grocery stores that you can walk to — there are more of those in New Milford than in Washington,” Geoffrey Hahneman said.

Additionally, refugees can take advantage of New Milford’s Social Services Department and Literacy Volunteers on the Green.

Housing costs in New Milford for the first several months to establish the refugee family would be $7,000 to 10,000, Lisa Hahneman said.

As of this time, the Hahnemans don’t know where the refugees would be settling. They will find out that information about two weeks before the refugee arrives.

About 30 volunteers have already agreed to help resettle a refugee, said Lisa Hahneman, adding many have contributed funding while others have pledged to give once the green light is given.

Geoffrey Hahneman said the volunteers learn as much from the experience as the refugees.

“You begin to look at your community with different eyes — thinking of the answers so such questions as: Is there public transportation? How accommodating are the schools? How easy is it to get health insurance?” he said.

Lisa Hahnneman added while some refugees may get homesick when they come to the area, they’re committed to making it work.

“They didn’t want to have to leave and yet they had no choice,” she said. “So, the longing is always going to be there to go home but home doesn’t exist in the same way anymore.”

Geoffrey Hahneman said it will take a joint effort in ensuring the refugee family has a positive experience in their new environment.

“We’re not adopting a family. We are helping resettle a family — the whole process is to help them find a sustainable way of life and get them plugged into a new community.”

Those unable to attend but would like to get involved can email info@wrrp.net.

sfox@milfordmirror.com