MEDFORD, Ore. — Among those experiencing homelessness in Jackson County, Latino youth and their families are especially vulnerable. Obstacles including language and cultural barriers, immigration complexities and high mobility (frequent moving) prevent people from accessing the services they need to improve their health and their lives.
The need for those services in Southern Oregon is great. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 12 percent of Jackson County residents identify as Hispanic/Latino, while 30 percent of the County’s homeless children and youth identify as Hispanic/Latino. The Federal McKinney-Vento Act defines homelessness as lacking “a fixed, regular and adequate nighttime residence.” This includes “couch surfing,” and living in motels, shelters, parks, streets or campgrounds, or in substandard, blight conditions.
The staff at the nonprofit organization Maslow Project knew they could help better serve this need. Maslow Project provides coordinated prevention services for homeless youth and their family members, and while the organization had employed bilingual staff in the past, they had not done in-depth case management for the Spanish-speaking community.
To better reach and serve this segment, Maslow Project applied for a Community Health Improvement Plan (CHIP) grant through Jackson Care Connect, a Coordinated Care Organization providing care for Oregon Health Plan (Medicaid) members in Jackson County. Maslow Project was awarded a grant for $35,000 in July 2016 to fund a Hispanic/Latino homeless youth and family services pilot project. This included a full-time bicultural, bilingual case manager. The case manager provides in-depth support that includes connecting families with wrap-around support through service agencies, counselors and tutors; helping clients develop and follow goal plans; and tracking relevant academic data.
This grant support was a catalyst for change throughout the organization. In addition to the concerted effort to increase case management, the team made an organization-wide effort to be more welcoming to Spanish speakers. They translated all of their written materials, and implemented responsiveness training with the staff. The staff found that even small efforts like greeting clients in Spanish go a long way toward making families feel comfortable and welcome.
Maslow Project works to seek clients out, in order to remove barriers to accessing services. Building trust with clients is crucial, and it often takes time for people to fully share what is happening in their lives. Once the case manager understands their circumstances, however, clients can get connected to the services they need including housing, food, medical care and legal support. Case managers also sometimes accompany clients when they visit other service agencies, to serve as interpreter and advocate.
Homeless Latino children and families can face unique challenges. For instance, there is a sometimes a cultural stigma about mental illness. That can mean a reluctance to talk about problems, or to seek help.
Complications around immigration can also be an obstacle. The bilingual case manager’s work includes advocating for unaccompanied youth, who are in this country without their parents. Children who are separated from their parents because of deportation are also particularly vulnerable. Also, families seeking political asylum because of violence in their home country face uncertainty and legal challenges. Maslow’s staff advocates for more services for people in this vulnerable situation, who can already be suffering from post-traumatic stress and anxiety.
Since the CHIP grant was awarded, Maslow Project has successfully increased the number of people served and services provided. From July 2016 through June 2017, Maslow served 530 Latino youths and family members, a 28 percent increase from the prior year. The number of unaccompanied youths served also increased, from 51 to 93 in the same time period, an 82 percent increase. Maslow also tripled the number of people engaged in case management, from 20 to 60.
The partnership between Jackson Care Connect and Maslow Project continues. This summer, Jackson Care Connect awarded Maslow Project a $25,000 CHIP grant to support expanded efforts to serve Latino youth. Maslow notes that other organizations in southern Oregon are also serving the community, and there is collectively much more work to do.
For information about Jackson Care Connect, contact Jeanie Lunsford, 503-416-3626, email@example.com.
For information about this story, contact Sara King Cole, Communications Consultant, 541-601-9011, firstname.lastname@example.org.