By: Marin Christensen
Note: The opinions expressed are those of the author alone and do not reflect an institutional position of the Gardner Institute. We hope the opinions shared contribute to the marketplace of ideas and help people as they formulate their own INFORMED DECISIONS™.
Late last year, before the COVID-19 pandemic, I had the honor of interviewing 43 service providers on behalf of the Salt Lake County Office of New Americans. The county wanted to better understand how the needs of new Americans are being met in Salt Lake County, and what providers need to better serve them.
For clarity, a “new American” is an immigrant or refugee to the United States. Some of these providers happen to serve these populations as part of their broader client base, while others solely serve these populations. Some providers might focus more on refugees, others immigrants, but most serve both.
First and foremost, I found that these providers are deeply committed to serving new Americans, and do their best navigating the ever-changing needs of this population on tight budgets. This is especially true during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has more adversely affected areas where many new Americans reside.
One finding of this study is particularly imperative during a pandemic; providers know there are new Americans in need that are unaware their service exists. If we zoom out to the broader context, this means that new Americans aren’t always getting the important information they need. Another finding uncovered barriers new Americans face when seeking services in general. Services exist to help with any need, yet barriers can act as a disincentive to seek these services, including language barriers, difficulty navigating complex government systems, lack of information, and fear – particularly for immigrants due to an increased national focus on immigration.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, these issues have resulted in some new American populations missing crucial information about the virus and safety protocols. When asked their ideas to overcome this problem (that is, if they have the capacity to take on more clients), better coordination among providers was often cited. Providers know that some organizations are more trusted than others, which is the deciding factor whether they – immigrants in particular – seek services or not. A more coordinated system would hopefully develop a trusted network of providers so more referrals of important services could be made.
Included in the report are verbatim comments from service providers that illustrate the issues they and the new American community face. Qualitative comments like these help to humanize research and give helpful context to what’s being reported. The full report, which includes a demographic profile of Salt Lake County’s foreign born population, is available here.
Marin Christensen is a research associate at the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute.