Magazine article Policy & Practice

A Place to Call "Home"

Magazine article Policy & Practice

A Place to Call "Home"

Article excerpt

Each year, Minnesota is the destination for more than 3,000 new refugees and immigrants, as well as substantial numbers of nonimmigrant ethnic groups who relocate there from other states. Minnesota is now home to more than 125,000 Chicanos/Latinos, 108,000 Asians and Pacific Islanders, 140,000 African Americans, 60,000 American Indians, 40,000 Africans, and growing numbers of Russians and Eastern Europeans. Minnesota also boasts the largest Hmong and Somali populations in the country and more than 80 languages are spoken in Minneapolis public schools.

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Notes one immigrant from Somalia, "There was chaos of unimaginable magnitude in Somalia. We lost the entire structure, our country was destroyed. Our entire lives were disrupted. While immigrants from some other countries may be able to return to their homes one day, we don't know if we can ever return home."

So how does this influx of immigrants affect the provision of human services within the state?

Some of the greatest challenges these new Americans and traditional minority groups face are cultural and linguistic barriers to meeting their basic needs. The challenges can be overwhelming for individuals who are also attempting to adjust and adapt to a new culture, learn English, and understand values that sometimes conflict with their own. As a result, an ever-increasing number of immigrants, refugees, and traditional minority groups enter the Hennepin County system to access services to stabilize, make a transition, and, ultimately, achieve self-sufficiency within the community.

A Cultural Bridge

Hennepin County has taken great strides to meet the needs of its many multicultural residents who choose to call Hennepin County "home." States with large immigrant populations, including California, Florida, Illinois, New Jersey, New York, and Texas, have long recognized the importance of addressing the needs of its immigrant populations. But Hennepin County has taken a step further through its Office of Multi-Cultural Services (OMS). With its mission to facilitate the delivery of county services to its diverse, limited English proficiency populations efficiently, OMS is a cultural bridge between the county's services and its multicultural population.

"As with many communities, the face of Hennepin County has changed greatly as refugees and immigrants have settled into our community," notes Dan Engstrom, assistant county administrator in Hennepin County Human Services Department. "Hennepin County's Office of Multi-Cultural Services has provided us with a vehicle to present complex county systems of service to cultural communities in ways that help stabilize lives and more rapidly transition to self-sufficiency." How does it do it?

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OMS, which works in collaboration with several community organizations, is composed of several components to serve its clients. Namely,

* The Community Outreach Liaison unit is comprised of bicultural and bilingual staff to assist newly arriving immigrants and refugees. It is their goal to help new Minnesotans navigate county systems and find community organizations where services can complement those offered by Hennepin County departments. Currently there are liaisons to assist with Somali, Oromo, Bosnian/Croatian/Serbian, Russian, Hmong/Laotian, and Latino populations. The demand for these outreach services has been growing steadily since OMS' creation.

* Immigration policy specialists are available to help Hennepin County staff understand the complexities of our country's ever-changing immigration laws. They provide training on immigration issues to county staff as well as community organizations. The immigration policy specialists also assist with determination of eligibility issues. An immigration advocate provides legal assistance to clients who petition for family members, apply for naturalization, or need fee waivers. …

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