Column: Support refugee resettlement in Northampton

Monday, October 17, 2016

A Springfield-based agency’s efforts to resettle 51 refugees over the course of a year in Northampton presents our city with an opportunity and a challenge.

There is a worldwide refugee crisis. This is a concrete act our community can take to help 10 to 17 families who find themselves, through no fault of their own, without home or country. As members of the city’s Human Rights Commission, we believe this resettlement effort embodies the spirit of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the United Nations in 1948 and which guides our work.

Here is some background. Catholic Charities, a Springfield-based human services agency, has a contract with the federal government to place refugees from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Burundi and/or the Congo into Northampton.

This resettlement is part of a broader effort begun last fall when President Obama increased the number of refugees to be resettled in the United States from 70,000 in 2015 to 85,000 in 2016 and 110,000 in 2017. These refugees are coming from all parts of the world, displaced by wars and terrorism. They need safe, welcoming communities in which to resettle and build new lives.

Catholic Charities’ contract with the federal government requires it to “place” the refugees, which means finding them housing and working with them to develop job and language skills as they settle in. But we all know that the act of making a place home requires much more than securing a house and employment.

With that in mind, Catholic Charities has approached Northampton to create a community-based model that aims to resettle and integrate these refugees into our community. The goal of this innovative approach is to provide a new home where these refugees will not just “be placed,” but where they can settle and thrive, with neighbors who come to know them, schools that support them, and a community that will truly welcome them into our midst.

Since June, the hard-working staff of Catholic Charities has been engaged in a deliberate and thoughtful process to build support and investment for this effort. They are working closely with municipal and school leaders as well as civic and faith leaders, property owners and interested community members to create long term, community-based supportive infrastructure.

This is a true collaboration among many sectors of our community. One element of this work has been a series of house parties and two community forums held to outline the effort for residents in all corners of our city.

The Human Rights Commission is pleased to host one of these community meetings, where staff from Catholic Charities and Northampton City Councilor Alisa Klein of Ward 7 will be on hand to describe the efforts to date, answer questions, and invite involvement. A recently resettled refugee will also speak.

The Human Rights Commission house party for the refugee resettlement project will be held Sunday, Oct. 23, from 3 to 5 p.m., at the home of member Christine Young, 1443 Westhampton Road. This is a public meeting. Young’s home is wheelchair accessible. Please RSVP if you plan to come by leaving a message with your name and the number of people in your party at 586-6587.

This resettlement is an ambitious endeavor and we know it will not be easy. There will be missteps along the way. But together as a community, we can work through the challenges posed by bringing families of different cultures and ways of life into our midst.

The Human Rights Commission believes our community will be immeasurably enriched if we rise to the occasion. We also believe it is, quite simply, the right thing to do. We are a city with a big heart. We can find room in it to welcome these people who have experienced the trauma of becoming refugees.

This column was submitted by the Northampton Human Rights Commission. In addition to Chairwoman Natalia Munoz, it was signed by members Brian Barnes, Laurie Loisel, Joel Morse, Carla Velez and Christine Young.