Up to 50 refugees from several countries will arrive in Ithaca next year after the U.S. Department of State awarded a grant to an Ithaca-based charity to house the refugees, enroll children in classes and find them jobs.
The charity, Catholic Charities of Tompkins and Tioga, applied in May to bring refugees from war-torn or unsafe countries — including Syria, Iraq, Burma, Bhutan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo — to Ithaca.
“We made the case that Ithaca would be a welcoming place for refugees and has the capacity in terms of infrastructure and services to ease some of the burdens of their resettlement,” said Sue Chaffee, director of CCTT’s Immigrant Services Program.
Chaffee told The Sun the grant provides the charity with $2,025 for each refugee it is able to place in Ithaca — $900 to CCTT for administration costs and $1,125 for direct assistance to refugees, such as covering their initial rent.
The largest groups of refugees will likely come from Syria and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, although that has not yet been officially determined, Chaffee said.
The effort to bring refugees to Ithaca began when CCTT’s sister program in Rochester suggested to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops that Ithaca may be a prime location for refugees to find a new home, according to Chaffee.
CCTT will use the grant to provide refugees “a safe and furnished home close to public transportation,” register children for school and enroll adults in English classes, according to Chaffee.
The charity will also partner with local businesses to help refugees access skills training and find employment, “as we know our clients will be eager to work and get back on their own two feet,” Chaffee said.
Chaffee said it will likely be “challenging” to find affordable housing, but CCTT has been contacting landlords directly to find enough apartments for the number of refugees the charity hopes to place.
One result of this difficulty is that Ithaca could house more families than individuals, because the charity has had more luck finding three- or four-bedroom houses than single apartments, according to Chaffee.
The support of Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick ’09 and the Tompkins County Legislature was representative of broad local support for resettling refugees in Ithaca, Chaffee said. She added that Ithaca has a “history of bringing different groups of refugees into the community since the late 1970s and 1980s, and those people are still living here and find Ithaca a safe place to live.”
“We have the infrastructure, we have a local English as a second language program that adults can attend,” she said, outlining the rationale she made in her grant proposal. “The school system has excellent ESL services … we have community buy-in from local services.”
Chaffee said CCTT will be busy over the next two months implementing services, taking training courses in how to manage refugee cases, finding apartments and reaching out to potential employers. The charity has already contacted Cornell, Ithaca College and Wegmans to see if there are positions available for when the refugees arrive, which could be as early as January.
Chaffee explained that most refugees will be employed in entry level positions but some are also likely to be professionals with degrees. In addition, CCTT will help people access skills training and obtain certifications.
Chaffee said she and her staff will undergo training for the next two months on pragmatic details, like how to handle airport reception as well as more critical aspects of the program — how to determine which refugees will be healthy and successful in Ithaca as opposed to Rochester, which has better medical programs.