Information where it’s needed
GREENWICH — The demographics of Greenwich are changing, rapidly.
“The population that’s really increasing in Greenwich is the Latino population and it’s now up to about 12 percent of the population of Greenwich — it probably was half that about a decade or so ago,” said Commissioner of Human Services Alan Barry. “If you’re looking for the change in Greenwich demographics and to pop the perception of Greenwich being a monolithic community with everyone white and everyone rich, you can look at that.”
Barry said it is impossible to tell what percentage of the population is comprised of new immigrants, because so many live “in the shadows.” But officials are taking steps to make sure all — those in and out of the shadows — are aware of available services and how to access them.
The town of Greenwich, through the First Selectman’s Diversity Advisory Committee, has published “Achieving the American Dream: A Resource Guide.” Available in English and Spanish, the guide will be distributed throughout town in the coming week, providing information about finding a job; accessing social services, health and child care; and getting legal help if needed.
Churches, libraries, Town Hall and non-profit agencies will all have copies of the guide available.
“We saw this as a critical need that was not being met,” said YWCA President and CEO Mary Lee Kiernan. “By creating this guidebook in both English and Spanish, we are able to help the immigrants in our community.”
The YWCA is a member of the Diversity Committee along with organizations including the Greenwich Fellowship of Clergy, Boys and Girls Club of Greenwich, Family Centers, Community Centers Inc. and the town Housing Authority.
First Selectman Peter Tesei said an initiative like this is what he was after when he expanded the Diversity Advisory Committee’s membership to include groups that have direct relationships with the town’s diverse populations.
“The purpose of the committee is to have inclusion and create understanding,” Tesei said. “We want the people who are directly serving a cross section of that population to participate. … It’s critically important to do outreach and empower people to become an integral part of the broader community. The only way you can do that is if you’re aware and familiar with programs and services that would be of benefit and necessity to you.”
A panel discussion on immigration issues, organized late last year by the committee, made clear where the need was and how to address it, Kiernan said.
“The information for immigrants has been very scattered and not easily accessible,” she said. “And it wasn’t always in the right language either. We wanted to get the information to the people who needed it the most. We wanted to make the services in the community more accessible to them … We wanted to create the definitive guide for immigrants when they arrive in the community.”
Barry agreed that previously information had not been presented in the best way. He said one of the biggest challenges people new to Greenwich and to the country had was navigating through the many bureaucracies they encountered — to get services and achieve citizenship.
“In too many instances they end up with these ‘notarios,’” fraudsters who present themselves as legal experts, “and they’re actually preying on them,” Barry said. “They claim they can help them with their immigration status but it’s a scam and they take their money and don’t provide anything. … We wanted people to have one guidebook for all the resources, kind of like one-stop shopping, and make it as comprehensive as possible to guide people to legitimate people and agencies that will help them.”
Groups including Connecticut Legal Services Inc., Building One Community and New Covenant Center have been listed as valid and safe resources for immigrants.
But Barry noted another barrier that can keep immigrants from getting services they need — fears of deportation.
“More and more of this population is concerned about coming out of the shadows,” he said. “Our diversity committee has discussed trying to set up some public meetings ... to provide more information. But attempting to get people to come out for it is a real challenge because they’re so concerned about being identified and what the consequences might be.”
Barry said he hopes the guide is a way of getting around those fears.
The guide will be available online in the Department of Human Services’ section of the town’s new website at www.greenwichct.gov. Kiernan said the online version will be updated and expanded whenever needed.
“We want to make sure people know about the services that are available and we want to be able to identify if there are any emerging issues or needs that have to be addressed,” Tesei said. “This committee can take a leadership role.”