By: Christa Meland
Minnesota will welcome roughly 2,500 refugees in 2016—about 450 of whom will receive assistance from Refugee Services, a program of the Minnesota Council of Churches, which the Minnesota Conference is part of.
The ministry provides support to refugees through case management, immigration, employment, and education. Refugees receive assistance for everything from finding housing and accessing public benefits to finding jobs and registering kids for school.
“A constant challenge is housing,” said Ben Walen, director of Refugee Services, an ecumenical ministry. “With escalating costs, it’s more and more challenging to get a place people can afford for any length of time.”
Refugee Services recently got a huge boost in the form of a $31,000 check from the Minnesota Conference’s 2016 Love Offering for missions. The Love Offering is collected annually within Minnesota United Methodist churches and delivered to annual conference session, although additional donations come in throughout the remainder of each calendar year. Forty percent of this year’s Love Offering, which has surpassed $90,000, was designated to Refugee Services.
“This amazing gift blew us away,” said Walen. The money will be used to start a housing fund to supplement current sources used to help refugees find a place to live.
Right now, Refugee Services and the six other Minnesota agencies that help resettle refugees receive $925 from the U.S. State Department to use on behalf of each refugee they work with. That money must go toward housing, food, and other basic necessities until each adult secures a job and starts receiving income.
Walen said it’s difficult to find an apartment within that budget, and many landlords are hesitant to work with tenants who can only guarantee a few months of paid rent. The housing fund is still being designed, but a whole new slate of rental options will become available if Refugee Services could help clients guarantee six full months of rent—and the hope is to be able to do just that.
The $31,000 check represents 40 percent of the Love Offering received from churches and individuals thus far this year. Additional funds will be given to Refugee Services later this year as more Love Offering donations come in.
Walen said that the majority of refugees coming to Minnesota have been at a refugee camp for decades. Although the U.S. refugee resettlement program has been a mainstay within the country for years, anti-immigration rhetoric in recent years has fueled some controversy.
“Despite claims of people who say refugees are a risk to the community, people coming here have gone through years of vetting,” said Walen. “Refugees are the most vetted group of immigrants there are.”
For all the negativity surrounding refugees, there’s also been an outpouring of support from churches and individuals who want refugees to know they are welcome here, Walen said.
Thank you for your generous support of this year’s Love Offering! Here are six ways you and your church can continue to help refugees:
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church