RDJ REFUGEE SHELTER:
We provide holistic care and support for asylum seekers who are experiencing housing insecurity by running a shelter for temporary housing and connecting each guest to supplementary services like legal and medical help and education. While New York City has numerous shelters, these shelters are often very dangerous places for our clients. Our clients are victims of torture, and nearly all are victims of trauma. Half of our guests identify as being LGBTQI and are victims of violence and persecution due to their sexuality. City shelters are dangerous for our clients who often have limited English language skills, a history of trauma, and a history of facing violence because of their LGBTQ+ identity. In addition to housing insecurity, our clients are in a unique position and have no access to public funds and benefits. Our clients need monetary assistance. They each have countless legal and language appointments to attend. It’s crucial to provide guests with not only referrals for legal status and work authorization, but also with more basic resources like Metro cards, access to safe and nutritious food, toiletries, and clean bedding; these needs are often overshadowed by needs for legal help. At RDJ Refugee Shelter, we provide both layers of services to achieve a holistic support system for the asylum seeker community.
With the current political climate and negative attitudes towards migrant populations, it is more difficult than ever to seek asylum in the United States. As one of the few organizations focusing on the needs of protection and services for the estimated 30,000 asylum seekers in New York City, and the only shelter for this specific group, we are ready, willing and able to expand our program and increase our capacity to provide comfort and care to those most in need. We are the only organization that focuses to provide solutions to housing insecurity of refugees and asylum seekers. Housing is one of the most basic human needs (and rights), and housing security is the foundation for self-sufficiency. Our work does not stop at providing housing and referrals for our clients; we work to provide a platform for asylum seekers to share their stories in hopes of encouraging sustainable systematic and political changes in asylum seeker rights. While LGBTQ stories have been gaining attention due to Pride month, these voices often belong to one group- generally privileged by their skin color, socioeconomic status, and citizenship. Refugee stories have also been given attention in response to the crisis in Syria- but, again, these stories are often limited to refugee groups who are fleeing wars and conflicts, not those who are fleeing persecution. Our work is very relevant because we focus on people who are often left out of the narrative: LGBTQ asylum seekers whose intersecting identities as sexual minorities and second-class citizens due to migration laws limit their available resources and leave them as targets of prejudice, racism, and xenophobia.
In a rapidly gentrifying neighborhood like Harlem, community based leadership is essential. St Mary’s Episcopal Church is one of the few community service centers that not only recognizes the importance of diverse, community-based leadership, but actually implements it. People of color constitute more than half of the clients being served by community service organizations (about 90% at the EW Food Programs), yet the community service field has very few directors and leaders of color. Leadership of color is essential—who better to articulate the depth, intensity and perspective of diverse groups than a leader from that group who has lived the experience? St Mary’s Food Program leaders are people from the community, many have volunteering for over 20 years. This is of extreme value to the community, the staff, and the clients.