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By Janis Mork

August 29, 2013 (San Diego) - At the San Diego Refugee Forum on August 20, the focus was on housing issues faced by refugees. The forum covered a variety of programs on housing and other topics, including announcements of upcoming events in San Diego and East County. 

Faith Espejo, Director of Program and Operations, and Tina Parra, Resources Coordinator of San Diego HUB, from Housing Opportunities Collaborative addressed housing issues. HUB serves as an information clearinghouse by consolidating housing-related information and making it easily accessible to the public and partners, and also acts as a hub for its partners by conducting outreach events to educate and provide housing counseling services to the public. 

Espejo began. “I’m an immigrant myself.. It was hard for me to communicate…We are a collaborative of partners. We are not a direct service provider...It would be nice to connect [people] where they’re at.”

Parra then spoke about fair housing services. “At our office, we are right next to the San Diego Housing Commission. We do provide direct housing…At our office, we provide education and information…There are so many kinds of discrimination going on...People come in, they inquire, we do assessment, we partner with Legal Aid of San Diego to do legal components. In some cases, it’s a matter of writing a letter and the issue is resolved.”

Espejo informed the public. “We only serve the city of San Diego.” Parra added that only the zip code beginning with ‘921..’ counts. Espejo continued, “Anything outside San Diego, they go to the County of San Diego.”

One person asked, “Is there a good contact for bankruptcy?”

Parra talked about the HOME clinics they offer. The next one is September 14 at the El Cajon Library from 10 am to 2 pm.

The HOME Clinics started in 2007, primarily focusing on foreclosure preventions. Now they provide resources and counseling on other issues such as family law, immigration, etc. A HOME clinic is a one-stop center of various counseling services. Homeowners receive individual counseling from a HUD approved housing counseling agency’s counselor, obtain individual review of real estate documents from a mortgage counselor, and receive personal counseling from volunteer attorneys with specialization of various types of law. 

Finally, Espejo talked about the future of Housing Opportunities Collaborative. “People sit face-to-face with a housing attorney. When it started in 2007/2008, hundreds were lining up. Eventually, we do it on a virtual world, using technology. The services we have are mostly in the housing industry. We’re hoping to open up to provide other services…Maybe with the iPhone or smartphone.” 

They have created the Virtual Counseling Network, a real-time collaboration platform with video conferencing capabilities that provides access to a “one stop” cadre of services. VCN will be useful for cross referral when counseling requests by clients who are outside a counseling agency’s scope of service. A benefit is that people won’t have to drive all over and use up a lot of gas. 

Earlier in the meeting, Tommy Messinger from Alliance for African Assistance showed a PowerPoint presentation on a couple of new free programs they created. First was the Team Program, where they help resolve complaints and answer any questions someone has about their phone, Internet, and cable bill. “We offer education” for understanding the bill, etc. Among the issues they address are overbilling, slamming and cramming, lifeline denial, wrong rate, wrongful disconnection, undisclosed fee, etc. 

The other program is the CHANGES Program. CHANGES stands for Community Help and Awareness of Natural Gas and Electricity Services. In this program, the alliance helps with questions, applications for needs assistance, and resolves disputes someone may have about their SDG&E bill. They also help if someone doesn’t understand their bill. They address safety, energy conservation, payment options, billing cycle, dispute resolutions, etc. With the Needs Assistance, they offer CARE, Neighbor 2 Neighbor Program, HEAP program, medical base line, reach program, etc. 

“It’s for everyone, but geared towards refugees,” Messinger said.

Community announcements were made at the end. Lorna Strang from Women’s  Empowerment announced that on September 11, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., they will tour the IRC offices and the Roots garden, incorporating the Star Center for Entrepreneurial women. A $2 donation is suggested. This is for anyone interested in the depth workings of the IRC, or perhaps interested in volunteering. For more information, visit: http://www.womens-empowerment.org. You can also contact Lorna Strang at lornastrang@gmail.com

Also, Rita Shamoon from Cuyamaca College talked about Project SHINE, which focuses on helping refugees acquire healthcare education and ESL. Refugees over 18 years and living in the U.S. for less than 5 years, and residing in the East County are welcome. It is every Wednesday from 10am-12 pm. It began July 3 this year and runs through June 30, 2014. It will be at EMASS (Elder Multicultural Access and Support Services) on East Main Street in El Cajon. The phone number is (619) 749-5660. To sign up, you can contact Renee Nasori at (619) 660-4049 or email her at Renee.Nasori@gcccd.edu. For more information, visit: http://www.projectshine.org

Community Action Partnership (CAP) with Health and Human Services Agency (HHSA) is currently accepting applications for its Advisory board. CAP is the local Community Action Agency in San Diego that engages in continual improvement of the economically disadvantaged. Community Action Board’s mission is to advise and make recommendations on Community Action Partnership programs to strengthen the well-being of economically challenged individuals and families in the San Diego County. They are looking for people who: care about strengthening their communities and can commit to attending monthly meetings, will represent the diversity of San Diego County, and understand the challenges faced by those with inadequate resources. For more information, contact (619) 338-2799. 

For more information about the programs offered by Alliance for Africa Assistance, contact Tommy Messinger at 619-286-9052 ext. 241. You can also visit: http://alliance-for-africa.org

For more information about Housing Opportunities Collaborative, visit: http://home.myhousingforall.org/index.php?&width=1920&height=1080. For fair housing, go to: http://home.myhousingforall.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=articl...

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