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ARPA funding to help build Welcome Center for immigrants

Evanston’s Social Services Committee unanimously voted to support city funding for a welcome center for immigrants Thursday. The proposed plan draws up to $500,000 from American Rescue Plan Act funds and would cover funding for the center from July 2022 to July 2023.

The building plans come as about 1,200 asylum seekers have arrived in Chicago over the past month. The migrants have come in buses from Texas as part of Gov. Greg Abbott’s plan to send asylum seekers to other cities, including New York City and Washington DC, in an attempt to pressure Biden to increase border controls.

Mariana Osoria, senior vice president of partnerships and engagement at Family Focus, said the center intends to provide services to those arriving in Evanston. Resources include interpretation and translation for advocacy, emergency cash assistance, employment readiness services and community education workshops to help individuals and families.

“We truly want to engage with the community and hear what services they’re most interested in so that as we’re building the program, we’re identifying and responding to what some of the top priorities are,” Osoria said.

The Chicago-based non-profit organization focuses on nurturing families and children to help build social capital and achieve economic mobility through programs grounded in social justice and anti-racism.

Family Focus currently has 10 community centers across the Chicago area, including one located next to the Fleetwood-Jourdain Center at 2010 Dewey Ave., where the welcome center will operate.

In recent weeks, Family Focus has sent staff from one of its Chicago welcome centers to Evanston to support migrants from Texas, aiding them with finding housing, getting clothes and other emergency assistance services. These program activities would continue after receiving approval for a welcoming center in Evanston, Osoria said.

Members from the Evanston Latinos group, including President Rebeca Mendoza, also support the welcome center. Mendoza said Evanston Latinos has been the primary organization in the city helping immigrants. As a volunteer group, Evanston Latinos doesn’t have the capacity to properly meet immigrants’ needs, Mendoza said, and a welcome center could help.

“We know this population could be better served by having an adequate welcome center,” Mendoza said. “It would be great for the city of Evanston to have some foresight and be able to respond adequately.”

The recommendation by the Social Services Committee will now go to the Human Services Committee, and eventually to City Council for vote.

Social Services Committee member Kathy Hayes said she hopes City Council approves the funding so Evanston can become a pioneering city in welcoming people who are running from tyranny or insecurity.

Hayes said Family Focus has an upstanding and strong history of nurturing community members, which is why she was so enthusiastic about voting to approve these funds.

“We all need to tap into our humanity and be kind to one another,” Hayes said. “There’s a mean-spiritedness that has unfortunately permeated the United States for a little while, but I’m hoping love will win out and we will be able to let people see love in action by including people into our community.”

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Twitter: @ellajeffriess

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