Written by Maggie Steinberg, a Program Fellow in Migrant Services.
It was quite an experience to be in the room as ninety-two migrant housing providers, their interfaith partners, and Lutheran leaders from 19 states collaborated to discuss the challenges of providing housing to migrants. The 2015 LIRS National Housing Convening was a first-of-its-kind conference designed for forming strategy and collaboration.
Current housing situation for migrants
Convening participants gathered to work toward the goal that “all migrants seeking humanitarian protection in the United States have access to safe, dignified, and appropriate housing.” Together, we explored the obstacles facing asylum seekers, torture survivors, and other vulnerable migrants without status. Many of them are released from detention centers with nowhere to go.
The current landscape serving this demographic can be described as a scattered, disconnected network of service providers. Unlike other sectors where practitioners interact through conferences, training opportunities or professional events, for many, this was the first time in which different housing practitioners were connected with one another.
Molly Corbett, Director of Asylee Women’s Enterprise in Baltimore, has dedicated her time and passion to providing housing and resources for women who are seeking or have been granted asylum. The sheer lack of housing options continues to astound her. “It’s overwhelming,” she commented. “You’d think there would be hundreds of housing practitioners, but there simply aren’t.”
“I just wanted to be connected with other housing providers,” Molly said. “Sometimes, you can feel alone on the job, and I was excited to coordinate with others.”
The energy throughout the convening was high, with sessions dedicated to strategizing, identifying key issues, and collaborating on best practices. Still, the desperate need that still exists for this vulnerable population came up.
Connections to congregations
Housing organizations are often small, usually supported through the ministry of a congregation that has dedicated significant resources and volunteer hours to ensure safe housing. But participants at the National Housing Convening believed more could be done in collaboration with churches to utilize space and resources.
Tina Jasion, Director of Lutheran Inter-City Network (LINC) Baltimore, attended as a supporting Lutheran partner. Her reflections highlighted the critical role many churches play in securing housing for vulnerable populations. Tina wondered aloud what the barriers to participation were for congregations: “Even though we understand there’s a lack of housing, there seems to be so much fear that it’s hindering the spirit of generosity.”
For migrants seeking shelter– a most basic need– a congregation can become their community, and an underused property can soon turn into a home.
Top challenges facing housing providers
As a final activity, participants reflected on the most pressing issues that prevent migrants from accessing housing. The top three challenges?
- Low public awareness of the issues
- Broad lack of funding
- Lack of opportunities for authentic encounter with migrants
Those issues won’t be solved overnight, but the enthusiasm and compassion I witnessed gives me hope that, with the continued hard work and perseverance of the participants, people will continue to welcome migrants into their communities and their homes.
“The key is relationship-building,” Tina said. “When individuals, groups, or congregations get in touch with someone, they become a face, a story, a human. When it becomes personal, it changes the relationship for the better.”
Please consider donating today to support our efforts to provide housing for migrants.