While thousands of revelers were in downtown Cleveland celebrating St. Patrick’s Day, about 300 people gathered in Grand Hall at St. Vladimir Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral in Parma for a more somber event.
Gov. Mike DeWine asked the Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Services to convene an Ohio Summit on Ukraine Refugees to ensure the necessary services are in place for any Ukrainian refugees who may land in Ohio.
As Russia continues its attack on Ukraine, an estimated 3 million people have been forced from their homeland. Many are in neighboring countries such as Poland, but given the large Ukrainian population in Ohio – specifically in the Parma area – the governor said he wanted to be prepared in case some of the refugees find their way here. “We are very proud of that,” he said, referring to those of Ukrainian heritage who live in the state.
DeWine said mayors and other officials have been receiving inquiries about what people can do to help the Ukrainian refugees, which is why he convened the summit.
“Ohio welcomes and will welcome any refugees from Ukraine,” he said. The summit featured representatives of organizations that work with refugees to help them resettle and build successful lives. One such agency is Catholic Charities, Diocese of Cleveland. Heath Rosenberger, program director for Catholic Charities’ Office of Migration and Refugee Services, participated in a panel discussion and provided information about the refugee resettlement process.
“Sometimes we only get a week’s notice before a refugee arrives,” Rosenberger said. He explained how MRS swings into action to locate appropriate, safe housing for the refugees, to prepare the housing, including cleaning and furnishing it, and purchasing food. In order to facilitate the employment process for refugees, Rosenberger said they seek housing near transportation. Many of the families are large – sometimes eight or 10 people – he said, so it’s important to find suitable housing.
But there are hurdles, he noted, including convincing landlords to rent to refugees, who have no credit history and may not be employed immediately. Refugees often are traumatized and need medical checkups. In addition, many need a translator and must learn English in order to successfully integrate into the community and obtain employment. Children must enroll in a school, so it’s important to have language and other needed assistance available. He credited the Cleveland, Parma and Lakewood schools for working with refugees to help ensure children can successfully adapt to the new learning environment.
Rosenberger said a number of Afghan refugees resettled in Cleveland last fall. He mentioned St. Ambrose Parish in Brunswick, St. Colman Parish in Cleveland and the Sisters of Notre Dame, all of whom helped find temporary housing for the influx of Afghani refugees until they could find more permanent dwellings.
Medical care is important, also, and organizations like Neighborhood Family Practice collaborate with MRS and other organizations serving refugees to fulfill their health care needs.
“It’s important to find early employment for refugees,” Rosenberger said, noting the goal is to get them self-sufficient as soon as possible. On a positive note, he said there are many jobs available now. Many refugees are talented and they may have had an important position, but they arrive with virtually nothing and need to obtain documents in order to find employment. The agencies work with both the refugees and employers to resolve potential problems.
In addition, refugees are paired with mentors who help them with any difficulties that may arise during the acclimation process, Rosenberger said. Mentors could work with a family for a year or longer, if necessary.
Other speakers focused on the federal and state perspectives and the refugee experience.
Summit attendees were encouraged to use index cards included in the packets they received to jot down any questions, concerns or potential resources that could assist with the refugee resettlement process.