Detroit organization may have to turn away victims of rape and assualt

Detroit organization may have to turn away victims of rape and assualt
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COMMENTARY by Deborah A. Drennan, Executive Director, Freedom House Detroit

Would you turn away a rape victim or someone who has been tortured from your door?

In essence, that’s the dilemma that Freedom House is facing today.

The last few weeks have been incredibly troubling for metro Detroit’s immigrant and refugee communities. But even before news of President Trump’s so-called travel ban and the protests that followed, a decades-old Detroit institution—one that I have had the honor of leading for the last eight years—was hit with devastating news from the federal government.

Funding critical to the survival of the most fragile among us was cut at a time when it’s most needed.

Freedom House Detroit is a lifeline and oft times, the only hope of asylum seekers.

While you might think that there are lots of resources available to those at risk, Freedom House stands alone as the only organization in the United States providing shelter, legal services and comprehensive social services at no charge and all under one roof.

“We believe that a program that moves 93 percent of its clients into permanent, stable housing once their asylum application is complete and they are legally allowed to work in the U.S. is worthy of support.”

We help those in need, when they need us most serving asylum seekers–refugees from around the world who are fleeing violence and persecution due to their political beliefs, religious affiliation, nationality, race or sexual orientation.

Without adequate funding, rape and assault victims, like this Freedom House resident, may be turned away.

And we take in arrivals 24/7, who often arrive with nothing more than the clothes they are wearing and a few belongings. The situations they are escaping are unspeakable.

Our trauma counseling helps these new arrivals feel safe and deal with their experiences. We also provide temporary housing, food, and clothing; medical and behavioral health services; employment training, English as a Second Language and educational classes; and legal assistance in achieving political asylum status.

For 20 years, more than half of Freedom House’s budget has come through funding from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). But we were recently informed that our HUD grant would not be renewed due to shifting priorities at the federal agency.

Freedom House is considered “transitional housing,” and HUD now prioritizes other models for which our clients do not qualify.

We’ve been proud of our track record and believe that a program that moves 93 percent of its clients into permanent, stable housing once their asylum application is complete and they are legally allowed to work in the U.S. is worthy of support.

An exceptional 86 percent of our clients are able to achieve political asylum status–much higher than the national average.

Gainfully employed, they become active members of their communities and build new lives where they can live safely and, as our motto says, where they can breathe free.

The majority of those served, 95 percent, were tortured in their home countries by their own governments.

They may have been electrocuted or plastic bags may have been melted on their backs. Women have almost certainly been brutally raped.

Without Freedom House assisting them with shelter and legal support through the asylum process, they risk being deported to their home countries, where they will almost certainly be detained, quite possibly even killed.

Founded in response to the Salvadoran refugee crisis of the 1980s and located in Southwest Detroit near the Ambassador Bridge, Freedom House represents the best of Detroit and Detroiters—our compassion, our acceptance of other cultures, our steadfast advocacy for what is right. If Freedom House is forced to close our doors, it will be a tremendous loss for the international community. And for our city.

We are appealing HUD’s decision, but we must find alternative sources of funding while the appeal moves forward–and in the event that the rejection still stands.

And we must pursue our appeal in a new climate of fear and confusion.

Editor’s Note: Deborah A. Drennan is the Executive Director of Freedom House Detroit. Visit Freedom House to learn more about their call to preserve HUD funding

Photos by Nick Hagen

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