(Plain Press, June 2018) Hispanic Alliance announced the creation of a new Welcome Hub that will provide bilingual resources and guidance to the area’s Latino population and services such as affordable housing, jobs and schools.
The May 3 launching of the Welcome Hub took place at the Hispanic Alliance office located on the ground floor of the bank building at West 25th Street and Clark Avenue. Welcome Hub, funded with a $7,5000 grant from PNC Bank, will be initially housed in the Hispanic Alliance office.
Maggie Rivera, Vice President of Community Consultant with PNC Bank, said discussions between Hispanic Alliance and PNC Bank began over a year ago as a way to address the increased migration of people from Puerto Rico resulting from the financial crisis being experienced on the island. The need has increased dramatically as the result of the devastation caused by hurricanes Irma and Maria. Rivera said that the Welcome Hub is a response to the increased need to provide new arrivals in Cleveland with housing, jobs, daycare and educational services.
“In the seven months since Hurricane Maria caused significant damage to Puerto Rico, Northeast Ohio has seen an influx of at least 1,200 new residents,” Hispanic Alliance Executive Director Juan Molina Crespo says. “While they came from an American territory, they still need help finding the basics, such as jobs, services and schools. The Welcome Hub will make their transition easier.”
Formed in 2008 to create a unified voice on leadership development, voter registration, civic engagement and community mobilization on issues that affect the local Latino community, Molina Crespo says the mission of the organization has expanded as residents have come to the center for help with essential services. In fact, 75 percent of all the requests the organization receives is for help finding affordable housing. The next highest request is for help with employment.
In announcing the new Welcome Hub, Executive Director Juan Molina Crespo says the Hispanic Alliance is formalizing a “natural progression” by providing “more basic services and literature in Spanish and English on various needs such as medical facilities and public services. The Welcome Hub also has a new computer lab, funded by PNC, that residents can use free of charge to do their research on needs such as schools, jobs, housing and public services.”
Molina Crespo says the population arriving in Cleveland from Puerto Rico are more highly educated than past migrants and are looking to “restart their careers.” Some new residents often need to find how to update professional certifications or need additional English language classes to transition into local jobs. He says the jobs are there and believes the needs are for workforce development, training, English classes and resume writing.
Victor Ruiz, Executive Director of Esperanza, a member organization of the Hispanic Alliance, provided an example of how new arrivals from Puerto Rico are preparing to transition into local jobs. Currently working with Cuyahoga Community College, Esperanza is providing English as a Second Language service to 15 medical professionals who are taking classes at Cuyahoga Community College to obtain the local certifications needed to continue their careers in Cleveland.
However, while the transition to employment for the new arrivals is progressing well, finding housing in the neighborhood has proven more difficult.
Molina Crespo said there is a critical need for affordable housing in the Clark Fulton neighborhood where Cleveland’s Latino community is centered. He said families are very interested in finding affordable housing in neighborhoods of the city where they have proximity to community services, social organizations, churches and extended family.
Molina Crespo called for a model of inclusivity going forward. He said higher income people are looking at the area for housing, and the neighborhoods need them, but not at the cost of exclusivity. He talked about seeing a single mom with three children waiting for a bus to go to a home on the East Side because there was no affordable housing in the neighborhood where she accesses services. It was emphasized that there is a need to be inclusive of all people living in the neighborhood. “It’s got to be about equity and justice. If not, we will be sitting here talking about the same issues.” Molina Crespo said about the future of the neighborhood.
Ruiz said the new wave of people arriving in Cleveland from Puerto Rico is being directed by Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority (CMHA) to East Side housing. He said we are at risk of losing people that could be future residents of the neighborhood. “We have to get this housing thing right,” Ruiz said. “We are well-intentioned, but not prepared to act quickly to develop a community-based strategy to respond to people in need.”
In a discussion about the new arrivals, members of Hispanic Alliance estimate that 1,200 to 1,500 new arrivals have arrived since the advent of the financial crisis and the hurricanes. Ruiz says that they are aware of 500 adults that have come to Cleveland. Many are parents with children. The Cleveland Metropolitan School District has reported 600 newly registered students from Puerto Rico, Ruiz said.
The discussion also included the potential cultural, economic and political impact of creating a critical mass of Latino residents on the near West Side and its significance for goals such as the creation of La Villa Hispana.