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Northampton explores hosting refugees

  • Northampton city hall



@amandadrane
Friday, June 24, 2016

NORTHAMPTON — Conversations are underway among city officials and area nonprofits that could bring 51 refugees to resettle in Northampton as early as October.

Kathryn Buckley-Brawner, executive director of Catholic Charities in Springfield, said the United States Confederation of Catholic Bishops Migration and Refugee Services approached her organization in December — around the time the City Council passed a resolution outlining the city’s commitment to welcoming refugees.

“That is why we took the invitation we had received to the City Council and the mayor,” said Buckley-Brawner. “We want the city of Northampton to be a very strong, contributing and collaborative partner — we cannot do this alone.”

Mayor David Narkewicz said while the city is open to the idea, conversations remain exploratory and important questions need answering.

“Welcoming folks to our community and trying to support them — particularly folks that are coming from war-ravaged parts of the world — I think there’s definitely support for that,” he said Friday during an interview. “We’re just making sure we have the capacity to be able to do that successfully.”

To discuss the logistics of welcoming refugees into the community, the mayor convened a meeting June 14 with members of the City Council, the superintendent of schools, employment officials, representatives from the Center for New Americans, the American Friends Services Committee, seven faith-based institutions, the Northampton Housing Authority and members of the Pioneer Valley Interfaith Refugee Action Group.

“I am feeling very confident about the process so far and I have to say working with all of the different agencies and people at large in Northampton has been a real pleasure,” said Buckley-Brawner. “The proclamation that was made in December has been truly lived out in the way people have listened and been receptive — there’s a strong sense of collaboration and commitment to making this a truly welcoming community.”

Buckley-Brawner said Catholic Charities is awaiting word on an application, which names Northampton as the proposed host community, as it must be approved by the U.S. State Department. With approval also comes State Department funding for the first few months of resettlement. Beyond that, said Buckley-Brawner, her organization will apply for refugee-specific state grants to support the resettlement, as well as conduct statewide fundraising and pitch in funds of its own. 

If the proposal is approved and the citywide conversations continue to unfold without issue, 51 refugees could come to the city by the end of the year. The refugees, said Buckley-Brawner, would come not as individuals but as families from sub-Saharan Africa, Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq.

At the meeting June 14, city officials and community members highlighted affordable housing, transportation, schooling and language services as important areas in need of bolstering if the resettlement is to be successful. Narkewicz said the city is working with the community to develop a smaller task force that can address concerns.

“We need to make sure people’s questions get answered and we allay any kind of fears that arise,” said Buckley-Brawner. “The best way we can do that is through open communication.”

Amanda Drane can be contacted at adrane@gazettenet.com.