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New Initiative Aims To Improve Experience Of Refugees In San Diego

Photo caption: Two posters in support of refugees stand outside the County Administration Ce...

Photo by Megan Burks

Two posters in support of refugees stand outside the County Administration Center in downtown San Diego, Dec. 10, 2015.

How do you make a new address into a new home? A study aims to answer that question for the thousands of refugees who arrive in San Diego each year.

More than 80,000 refugees have settled in San Diego County since 1975, and thousands more arrive each year. But how do you make a new address into a new home?

A study released Wednesday aims to answer that question.

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San Diego Refugee Experiences

San Diego Refugee Experiences

A survey of hundreds of refugees and their families living in San Diego County.

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The report by the San Diego-based nonprofit Partnership for the Advancement of New Americans, or PANA, focuses on the refugee experience in four areas: housing, health, employment and education. It identifies aspects of the resettlement process that need improvement.

Over six months, community leaders conducted hundreds of interviews with refugees and their families in 19 neighborhoods, including City Heights, to identify the community's needs.

Ramla Sahid, PANA's founder and executive director, said the survey's findings show that organizations may need to rethink some steps in the system, such as adjusting English language education curriculum to better fit the needs of adult learners.

"So it doesn't take into account adult learning theory, which says adults need to learn skills that they can immediately apply, that are practical. They understand exactly why they're learning something," Sahid said. "And then also beyond that, it doesn't take into account the needs of folks that are dealing with (post-traumatic stress syndrome) and other trauma, memory loss and such."

PANA will now develop solutions to the community's needs by focusing on incoming refugees from Syria, Sahid said.

"What we're saying is, we have an opportunity to work with some of the newest refugees arriving here in San Diego County and to think or rethink resettlement or the resettlement process for them," Sahid said. "And if we can produce better outcomes for those families, there's no reason why we can't use those learnings and make it better for all refugees and make it better for all of our families that are disadvantaged and living in poverty."

The new initiative, called the Syrian Refugee Collaborative, is funded by a $150,000 grant from the Leichtag Foundation. The organization's executive vice president, Charlene Seidle, said addressing the gaps in the resettlement process will benefit more than just the refugee community.

Special Feature Speak City Heights

Speak City Heights is a media collaborative aimed at amplifying the voices of residents in one of San Diego’s most diverse neighborhoods. (Read more)

"We know from data that diverse communities improve the overall economic well-being, health, quality and stature of a community, if the immigrant experience is handled correctly by the community," Seidle said.

For Sahid, whose parents came to the U.S. from Somalia, the initiative is also a personal matter.

"As a refugee woman who grew up in San Diego, it's really important to me that we not only just resettle people, welcome people who are fleeing violence and persecution, but when we resettle them, we're not forgetting about them," she said.

PANA and the Leichtag Foundation hope to identify and implement new resettlement strategies over the next few years and share their findings with government leaders. The California Endowment, which also supports Speak City Heights, helped fund PANA's study.

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