The impacts of COVID-19 on our immigrant and refugee communities

By Jessie Schoonover

The Hope Center for Refugees and Immigrants (Building Hope in the City), 15135 Triskett Rd., is coming up with solutions for connecting those who rely on the organization throughout COVID-19. 

The Hope Center provides walk-in assistance as well as classes for immigrants and refugees arriving in Cleveland. 

“Part of what they’re facing is not having that ability to have a face-to-face relationship,” says Building Hope in the City Refugee & Immigrant Ministries Director Eileen Wilson. “I think that’s a piece of it that is lost; that I think is an underlying piece.” 

But the bigger things our immigrant and refugee communities have lost include much of what the entire country has because of COVID-19: employment, job security, and food security.

“They’ve lost continuity,” says Wilson, “where their children were at school and they were able to do things with their life. So, not having the kids at school and not having daycare has been a huge part of this because even if we’re doing virtual classes- even doing virtual classes with your children there- you can’t really stay in the class. And, on the other hand, your children need help with the technology and how to do the schoolwork, and a lot of parents are finding themselves really not equipped, both from the language and technology perspective, to be able to help their children.” 

According to Wilson, they are also seeing people having difficulties with benefits and “just being able to reach out to people to get answers,” she says. 

“And with new families that came right as the COVID-19 was hitting; they are brand new families who are coming to Cleveland; they haven’t been able to get registered at school yet. They don’t have any real resources,” she says. “They are kind of just hanging out there.” 

Internet access has also been a challenge for some. According to Wilson, some Internet providers have extended offerings such as free access. But, she says, it is for a certain amount of time only and many still have trouble navigating how to sign up for this particular benefit. 

“Some things have been given to people to say ‘yes we’ll help you’ but there’s a step in between,” explains Wilson. “There’s a lot of that kind of thing where there’s partial access.” 

According to Wilson, they have been utilizing a mobile, video, and messaging application to interact with individuals who would normally go to the center. 

“We’ve been pretty successful with people doing their English classes. We also have people doing citizenship; we have people working on English and we’re tutoring some kids. So, it’s hit or miss.” 

So, with the lack of face-to-face communication and possibly the barrier of no Internet access, how are people still finding The Hope Center during COVID-19? 

“The good thing is the relationships we’ve built and the community workers we know,” says Wilson, who noted being within “these communities” for 11 years. “We’re using those people to find the vulnerable populations. Who do you know or who do you hear about that actually needs the help,” she says. 

“While we would never want something like this to happen, we’ve actually been able to build some networks that are stronger now,” says Wilson. “We now have access to some of the more vulnerable families to make sure they’re okay because people are realizing ‘okay we have to make sure all of the families are doing okay.’

“So, while people aren’t able to come and walk in and find us, they are absolutely finding us through this network of refugee and immigrant population organizations that work really well together in Cleveland. They are a huge blessing.” 

According to Wilson, The Hope Center is currently re-open for walk-ins from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. Monday through Thursday. 

The Hope Center is also collecting sports equipment or sporting goods to put together kits for 48 families/118 children, which would allow them to play outside. These include wiffle balls, soccer nets, and similar items. 

For more information, contact the West Park Times at email

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