Saturday, January 5, 2019

Brownsville Texas

I spent the morning of Wed, Nov 21, driving to and from Brownsville. A little farther east and south, I was curious to see what sort of activity is occurring there. On the way I passed some 8-10 signs for bridges across the Rio Bravo/Rio Grande. These would all be authorized ports of entry, I presume. Are asylum seekers attempting to cross at any or all of these? I don't know but will research.

In Brownsville, I first went to the Catholic Charities building. There they are primarily dealing with local community needs, helping with utility bills, clothing, food, housing, and so on. They pointed me to the Good Neighbor Settlement House in a poor part of town (I was told Brownsville is the poorest city in the USA but haven't confirmed that yet).

I spent over an hour talking with Jack White, who is in charge of their outreach programs. Fascinating!

First, the history of settlement houses is worth reading up on:  https://socialwelfare.library.vcu.edu/settlement-houses/settlement-movement-1886-1986/
Established to address needs in poor urban areas, they have adapted and evolved to meet the needs of whatever local community they are in. In Brownsville, the settlement house has helped with the homeless population, and more recently, the immigrant/refugee population. There is often crossover within these two groups.

Second, Brownsville does not get the numbers of refugees that McAllen does. Perhaps there are fewer attempting to cross at Brownsville but also Brownsville does not have a respite center like McAllen and it also doesn't have detention centers nearby. So the McAllen respite center receives refugees released from the local detention center, serves them, and helps them on the next stage of their journey.

Third, it can be said that Catholic Charities outsources refugee concerns to the Good Neighbor Settlement House or better, that the two partner to meet the needs of this specific group. They are in constant contact and share resources.

The Good Neighbor Settlement House (https://www.goodneighborsettlementhouseinc.org/) has a number of programs and activities. There is limited housing but three meals each day.  There are showers and changes of clothing. There are educational activities. There is a food pantry. There are programs to bring people together into a community.

And my favorite: there are gardens. Supported by a group of dedicated volunteers from Caspar, Wyoming (!) these gardens provide fresh food, skills, grounding, and team work. Volunteers for any and all of these activities is crucial to their success.

The Good Neighbor Settlement House operates on a limited budget and a) always needs more donations and b) always needs volunteers.  Do check it out!

I should note that I only checked in with Catholic Charities. Other religious organizations do get involved with the refugee needs.

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