With coronavirus, the risks are many. Laid off? Not enough sick days to cover an absence? Taking time off to care for an ill loved one? Struggling to manage child care? Some refugees may not have been working in the U.S. long enough to qualify for unemployment benefits or the stimulus package. Others will face challenges due to the nature of their jobs as housecleaners, laborers or other self-employment in the gig economy. Many families will need extra support with rent, utilities, groceries and other essentials until hiring freezes are lifted.
Refugees have already been through so much. By banding together, we can make the days ahead a bit easier.
Here is how Hearts & Homes for Refugees has been responding to COVID-19:
Providing information to local refugees via email and social media:
Links to reliable sources for coronavirus information. This includes links to Governor Cuomo’s page, the Westchester County Department of Health, and information from UNICEF on talking to your children about coronavirus - with a version in Dari, the national language of Afghanistan. It also included websites and hotline phone numbers for food distributions, mental health and domestic violence.
Links for ways to stay healthy and engaged. This included online resources for adults learning English plus reading websites and apps for kids. Plus a wonderful video from the director of the World Health Organization with five tips for staying healthy.
Connecting refugees virtually:
We know that at a time like this, the importance of community cannot be underestimated. Through the Westchester Refugee Initiative (WRI), Hearts & Homes for Refugees supported the organization of a refugee women’s conversation group. In this time of social isolation, we thought it would be great if the women could meet up online! Together with our friends at ICNAW and Neighbors for Refugees, we helped interested women get set up on Zoom, and hosted the first call this week!
Checking in and responding to growing needs:
Hearts & Homes has been touching base with ‘post-resettlement’ refugees who no longer have volunteer teams to turn to, as well as the many asylee families who have participated in the Helping Hands program. We are checking in, assessing needs in conjunction with Catholic Charities, and will be working with partners across the Westchester Refugee Initiative to meet those needs as they arise. This ranges from gift cards for groceries to support in applying for unemployment benefits.
Supporting a mask-making project:
Neighbors for Refugees has connected five local refugee women to www.masksforny.org, who in turn are part of the collective www.sewforny.org.
Hearts & Homes is promoting the project and secured a grant to help pay the refugees for their efforts.
Financially supporting SIV* refugees in Rochester:
Hundreds of refugees have been welcomed by our partner Keeping Our Promise in Rochester in recent years. Hearts & Homes for Refugees was already exploring ways to support our friends up north when COVID-19 exploded. Since then, the situation has become more dire, as refugees have been laid-off. Hearts & Homes provided rent and utilities support for three families. We convened WRI members, and ICNAW and Neighbors for Refugees have also sent funding, as did several individuals.