A trained chemist stocking shelves at Costco. An experienced accountant mopping floors.
These women are only two of the many immigrants and refugees with professional backgrounds who come to the U.S. but get stuck in low-wage jobs. Without a chance to take courses to re-certify in their previous career fields, they struggle to make ends meet, and are one unexpected-bill away from being homeless.
This instability impacts their children, leading to generational poverty. As this is written, eviction moratoriums are about to run out, leaving thousands at risk of eviction.
But ReWA is working to change that.
Thanks to a $2.5 million grant from the Day 1 Families Fund, ReWA is helping families on the verge of homelessness stay safe at home during the pandemic, and make long-term career plans that help them return to professional careers with livable wages.
When “Meron”* came to ReWA last year, she was working as a janitor. She struggled to feed her kids and pay the rent in the south Sound. Her immediate need was stable housing, so ReWA’s housing program helped her get into low-income housing. Then, she was referred to ReWA’s Day 1 program where she received rental and tuition assistance to enroll in Renton Technical College. She is poised to graduate later this year with an AA degree in accounting and expects to make $25/hr, starting wage.**
ReWA Day 1 Coordinator, Fereshte Taherazer, said her clients may face major barriers, but they know how to hold onto their dreams. “One client is living in transitional housing and surviving on food stamps, but she is also on track to complete a phlebotomy course next month, and ReWA will help with her job search into the health care field.”
Taherazer said this drive to succeed reminds her of her own experience. “I see my story in them: I was a refugee to Seattle and grew up in public housing, and went on to graduate from the University of Washington. For so many immigrants and refugees, their experiences have given them a strong will to succeed.”
At ReWA, Taherazer leads the Day 1 team of case managers, housing specialists and career coaches who meet every week to discuss which clients qualify for housing assistance, and to share the clients’ career plans. Yosef, a ReWA employment specialist who speaks Amharic, works with the Day 1 program to help ReWA clients get jobs and resettle.
“Many housing programs provide assistance for everyone, but don’t provide long term career advancement. For those with English and job skills who just need a short-term boost to rise out of poverty wages, Day 1 is the answer.”
Not only does Day 1 keep them from becoming homeless, it provides 9-12 months of support from case managers. This support can help them manage unexpected costs, hone budgeting skills, and access other ReWA programs, such as counseling, after-school programs, and immigration legal services, as needed.
Yosef recalls a young man, an asylum-seeker from Ethiopia, who was half way through his AA in IT Technology studies at Renton Technical College when the pandemic broke out. Almost overnight he lost his ride-sharing job, and was about to quit school and find any available work to pay his rent. Instead of this being a lost year for his education, at ReWA, he received housing and tuition assistance so he could finish the course and graduate. He doesn’t just graduate from college, he graduates from the instability of surviving hand to mouth in the gig economy.
“Without ReWA, I was about to drop the course. But now I’m good.”
As for the chemist? She and her ReWA Day 1 career coach, Fereshte Taherazer, have found a pharmacy program that will recertify her while she receives housing assistance. Taherazer said, “Our clients are experts at being resilient. They are eager to change their lives—all they need with a little help.”
**While this is still short of a livable wage for a single parent with three kids in King County, her participation in the Day 1 program has doubled her income and halved her housing costs.