Our first 5k!

Last Saturday, around 150 runners and walkers lined up across the starting line at the first World Relief Refugee 5k. The group was a mix of of 6-minute milers, parents with strollers, and kids running their first 5k. Some participants heard about the event from their church, others were invited by a World Relief staff member or volunteer, and still others simply saw a flyer posted at their local grocery store or coffee shop. What united this group of runners was their desire to come together to raise awareness and support for Chicago’s refugee community.

Runners and walkers enjoyed the beautiful weather, chatted with one another to find out how they were connected to the cause of supporting local refugees, and were even treated to free massages at the end of the race.

We were humbled by the great turnout and show of support for refugees in Chicago. We suspect most people had a good time, but we’ll let you check out the photos below to decide for yourself. Thanks again to all our walkers, runners, volunteers, and donors!

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A Volunteer’s Passion for Service Rekindled

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Shobhana Kasturi has been volunteering with World Relief since December of 2014. As a volunteer attorney, she helps out in our Immigrant Legal Services Department. Conducting legal screenings, co-managing cases, and going to outreach events are just a few of the many tasks she has done to assist our immigration attorneys.

Hannah Kiefer, WRC’s Volunteer Coordinator, had the opportunity to spend some time chatting with Shobhana about her experience.

What has your experience been like helping in our ILS Department?

“. . . I’ve seen clients come in feeling hopeless and dejected, and when they leave after a consultation, there’s a joy and buoyancy because they’ve been given some hope. I feel like each attorney counselor genuinely wants to help.

“It’s not uncommon for [clients] to come in and give mementos, thank you’s, bring in food, etc. Some will come in and sit down and want to chat because now their relationship has evolved. It’s transcended even that [working] relationship. That says a lot about the services that are provided. That says that the client has been touched by the work that has been done.”

What kinds of challenges and/or joys have you experienced during your service?

“. . . the ILS branch of World Relief . . . provides more nurture and care even though [there are] lots of cases that are going through. I don’t feel like the clients are a number. Their advocates know them by name. They know their cases in and out. If you went right now and asked [a staff member] about a case, [they] could rattle off all the details. The level of care is really strong.

“If you have compassion when you’re advocating, it makes such a difference. That’s why they have such a good record.”

Shobhana had additional observations to share.

“[The Department isn’t just] providing them with legal service, but also giving them hope, a small glimmer of hope. The advocacy is not just a mechanical thing, but combined with passion and a desire for success.

“That’s been my experience and that’s why I want to continue to have a connection with ILS WR. That motivates me.”

What kinds of lessons have you learned as a volunteer?

“I have really learned to be more patient. On scale of 1 to 10, I used to be 2 or 3. Now I’m a 9 or 10. It’s been a big contributor. I don’t let things get to me as much, and I try to handle things with more grace.”

Have you grown personally in other ways? If so, how?

“Service has been very important to me, even as a child. Unfortunately, my career took me away from that. . . . [T]his [has] really brought me back to the joy of giving back. I had not been so happy before. It keeps me very grounded. I have a smile back on my face because I love what I’m doing. I love seeing the impact.

“The passion I had as a kid has been kind of re-lit. . . . It’s been life-changing because I see the next two decades of my life [about giving back].”

WANT TO VOLUNTEER?

LEARN|| Read more about our opportunities at worldreliefchicago.org

SERVE|| Fill out your application today!

DONATE|| Busy schedule? You can still help! Provide in-kind or financial donations and make a difference in someone’s life today.

Interview with a World Relief Case Manager

This is the final post in our three part series on the refugee housing crisis in Chicago. We recommend going back to read our earlier posts that explain the basics of refugee housing and the underlying causes of the crisis

To give you an on the ground perspective of how our resettlement team is handling the refugee housing crisis, this week we interviewed AmyJoy Greenlee, one of World Relief’s Case Managers. AmyJoy joined our resettlement team last December and has quickly jumped into her role serving arriving refugee families from all over the world.

Describe how it has been more difficult to find housing for our arriving refugee families now compared to in the past. 

This has been one of the hardest times ever to find housing for our refugee families. We have a list of landlords we work with, and usually we can find enough housing through this network of connections we’ve made over the years. However, right now there is so much demand for lower income housing in Chicago that the landlords we’ve worked with for years just don’t have units available to rent to our clients.

Another factor is that many refugees arriving in Chicago are now choosing to live in the city for many years after they arrive. In the past, refugee populations were more likely to live in the city for a few years, and then move further out into the suburbs once they got established. For example, many of the Bosnian refugees who arrived in the 90s stayed in the city for a few years, but then moved further out into the suburbs when they could. We’re now seeing groups of people who arrived as refugees stay in neighborhoods such as Rogers Park, West Ridge, and Uptown permanently. 

Is having affordable, safe housing a key factor in helping a refugee family have a smooth transition into their new life in the United States?

Yes, most of our refugees are coming from very difficult situations, so we aim to provide them with stability and protect them from further trauma or fear once they arrive in Chicago. Finding adequate housing in a safe location is a big part of this. In addition, since refugees have by definition spent years running away from their former homes and communities, we recognize the importance of providing them with a space they can call their own.

What do you think that people in Chicago can do to help organizations like World Relief find affordable, safe housing for refugees?

What we need most are connections with landlords who are eager to provide housing to refugees. Although refugees typically arrive with few material possessions or financial wealth, they are a resilient group and become valuable members of their neighborhoods and communities. 

HOW CAN YOU HELP?

VOLUNTEER || If you’re interested in volunteering in the area of housing with World Relief Chicago, learn more and fill out an application at worldreliefchicago.org

HAVE A HOUSING LEAD? || If you are a landlord or know a landlord who may be interested in renting an apartment to a refugee family in Chicago, please email chicago@wr.org

GIVE || A tax-deductible gift to World Relief Chicago increases our capacity to tackle challenging issues like finding affordable housing for our refugee clients. Donate online here.

Housing Challenges Facing Chicago’s Refugees

Last week we kicked off our three part series on the refugee housing crisis in Chicago. If you missed it, go back and read our first post on Refugee Housing 101

This week we’ll discuss the underlying reasons for the current refugee housing crisis in Chicago. As we’ll see, Chicago’s refugees are adversely affected by housing issues at the national and local levels. They also face housing challenges unique to refugees as a group.

Lack of affordable housing nationwide

Since the Great Recession, stagnating wages and increasing housing costs have created a housing crisis for many low and middle income Americans. Additionally, tighter credit standards have made it much more difficult to get a mortgage, meaning many Americans must delay purchasing their first home. As a result, many low and middle income residents occupy rental housing, decreasing the supply of rental units.

As the Urban Institute notes, the supply of housing in the United States is also low because residential construction slowed significantly in most regions after the housing bubble burst in 2008. Even when there is new construction, most of it “targets upper-income renters and owners,” even though “the lack of affordable stock is already at crisis levels.”

Affordable housing in Chicago

A household is generally considered “rent-burdened” if it spends more than 30% of its income on housing. According to a recent study by the MacArthur Foundation, 48% of adults in Chicago spend more than a third of their income on housing compared to 31% of adults nationwide. Clearly, the proportion of rent-burdened households in Chicago is higher than the national average.

In addition to the nationwide housing trends discussed above, the rise of gentrification, an insufficient number of Chicago Housing Authority public housing units, and a dwindling number of single resident occupancy buildings are contributing to Chicago’s affordable housing crisis.

Refugees & affordable housing

Finally, refugees as a group face an additional layer of difficulty finding housing in a city like Chicago. Because a refugee resettlement agency like World Relief generally only has about two weeks to find housing for a newly arriving refugee family or individual, they must find an adequate apartment within a very short amount of time.

In addition, many landlords will not rent to tenants without a credit history, while others are hesitant to rent to new refugees since they usually do not have a job when they first arrive in the United States.

Due to all these factors, finding affordable, quality housing for refugees in Chicago is one of the most pressing challenges facing case workers at World Relief this summer. Stay tuned for our final post on the topic next week.

HOW CAN YOU HELP?

VOLUNTEER || If you’re interested in volunteering in the area of housing with World Relief Chicago, learn more and fill out an application at worldreliefchicago.org

HAVE A HOUSING LEAD? || If you are a landlord or know a landlord who may be interested in renting an apartment to a refugee family in Chicago, please email chicago@wr.org

GIVE || A tax-deductible gift to World Relief Chicago increases our capacity to tackle challenging issues like finding affordable housing for our refugee clients. Donate online here.

Refugee Housing 101

Welcome to World Relief Chicago’s new blog!

This month we’ll be sharing information about affordable housing for refugees, a pressing issue affecting nearly all refugees arriving in Chicago today.

Through a three part series, we’ll explore how refugees find housing, why affordable housing for refugees is so challenging to find, and how our case workers are responding to this crisis. We’ll also suggest ways that you can get involved and help refugee families find affordable, safe housing in our community.

Let’s jump in with our first post, Refugee Housing 101.

Volunteers and supporters new to World Relief often wonder how our refugees find housing. To answer this question, it’s helpful to have a basic understanding of how refugees end up in the United States in the first place.

Refugees are people fleeing conflict or persecution. Once they register with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), many refugees await resettlement to a third country like the United States or Canada. Refugees wait years to be resettled, most of them never making it to a resettlement country like the United States.

After months of medical and security checks, the refugees who do end up being resettled are eventually assigned to a refugee resettlement agency like World Relief. Typically, the resettlement agency is notified of the refugee individual or family’s arrival about two weeks before they fly to the United States.

Over those two weeks, the resettlement agency will search for market rate housing for the refugee individual or family in an affordable neighborhood. In Chicago, refugees are most often housed in apartments in Rogers Park, Uptown, West Ridge, or Albany Park.

Resettlement agencies generally seek to develop a network of landlords willing to rent apartments to their refugee clients. Organizations like World Relief establish solid connections with landlords and property management companies in the city, but as we’ll see in our next post of the series, finding refugee housing in Chicago can prove to be a challenging endeavor.

HOW CAN YOU HELP?

VOLUNTEER || If you’re interested in volunteering in the area of housing with World Relief Chicago, learn more and fill out an application at worldreliefchicago.org

HAVE A HOUSING LEAD? || If you are a landlord or know a landlord who may be interested in renting an apartment to a refugee family in Chicago, please email chicago@wr.org

GIVE || A tax-deductible gift to World Relief Chicago increases our capacity to tackle challenging issues like finding affordable housing for our refugee clients. Donate online here.