For many of us living in Clark County, the thought of fleeing our home for an unfamiliar country is something we can’t fathom. Sadly, it’s a global reality, with the UN Refugee Agency estimating about 26.4 million refugees worldwide. The war in Ukraine is just one of the more recent causes of people being displaced from their homes to find themselves in a foreign place.
Earlier this year, C-TRAN partnered with Lutheran Community Services Northwest to create a new Refugee Pass program that provides free transit access for eligible refugees now living in Clark County. Since the program launched in May, four individuals have been approved for a pass—and with it, access to transportation as they navigate a new community and a new life.
Understandably, many people who leave their homes to seek refuge elsewhere need help getting settled. Lutheran Community Services Northwest assists people across the Pacific Northwest, including in Vancouver, providing a link between worlds for refugees. It acts as a critical lifeline to services like mental health counseling, English classes, employment, and of course, transportation. C-TRAN is proud to partner with the organization to provide access to a free, three-month pass for refugees arriving in the area that need transportation.
We spoke with Nikki Chung, Resettlement Program Supervisor at the Lutheran Community Services Northwest office in Vancouver, who offered some insights about the program:
About how many folks does the Vancouver office serve annually?
We project that we will serve 300 - 350 refugees per year. This year, we have welcomed 116 refugees from Ukraine, Moldova, Russia, Syria, and Kenya. That is in addition to the 145 Afghan refugees that came to Clark County through the Afghan Placement & Assistance Program.
How many countries do you have folks coming in from?
The largest group of refugees that are resettled in Clark County are family reunification cases from former Soviet Union countries. While that is more typical of who we welcome here, we have had the opportunity to resettle folks from Iraq, Syria, Myanmar, Kenya, and of course Afghanistan.
What’s the typical process that folks go through once they arrive?
When a refugee arrives here, there are quite a few tasks that need to be accomplished quickly so they can get established. Our Reception & Placement team provides holistic case management for the first 90 days. First and foremost, folks get connected with community resources such as the Department of Social Health Services food and cash assistance, employment support through Partners In Careers, English classes through Clark College, and medical care through SeaMar. School-aged children are enrolled into newcomers or ESL programs in the school district. Our goal is that people are placed in permanent housing as quickly as possible. This can be a challenge without credit history, employment history, or rental history. Thankfully, we have a network of landlords who understand the refugee process and are willing to provide a first step into the housing market. Finding employment is another major and essential milestone. Once again, we have a few employers that have been amazing resources, providing supportive employment for folks that are working on their English and learning to work in a new environment. Throughout the 90 days, case managers provide cultural orientation and hopefully connect folks with a volunteer team that helps orient them to their new surroundings and provide friendly opportunities to integrate with the greater community.
What’s one thing you’d like people to know about the work your agency does?
Successful refugee resettlement cannot happen without an involved, supportive community. Volunteers really make a huge difference in a refugee's journey. We love to connect people, organizations and faith groups with our work.
Transportation is just one piece of the puzzle regarding getting people settled in our community. By partnering with an agency like Lutheran Community Services Northwest, we can further our reach to those who need a helping hand. It’s our community, our promise.