Somali Family Service of San Diego: Helping Refugees Help Themselves

Somali Family Service of San Diego: Helping Refugees Help Themselves

Somali Family Service of San Diego helps communities that are all too often left behind.

Its work, which has transitioned to providing emergency cash assistance during the COVID-19 pandemic, has become even more critical of late.

“I have a large family with 11 children and a disabled child, so there are a lot of people who are depending me,” said one City Heights resident who received support from Somali Family Service. “Due to COVID-19, I lost my job and was worried we would be evicted or homeless. Without the support of Somali Family Service we wouldn’t have been able to cover our rent payments.”

Now, more than ever, financial support has been critical for immigrants, refugees and San Diego families hit hard by the pandemic.

Explained another resident who cares for his refugee family members and received assistance from Somali Family Service, “I really needed help with paying rent because I lost my only source of income due to COVID-19. My three children who are young adults are newly arrived refugees so they are struggling to get jobs since they do not speak English. They rely on me for support but the pandemic has created a very difficult situation for us.”

These stories mirror countless others throughout San Diego County. Refugee and immigrant families are facing dire situations due to COVID-19 and organizations like Somali Family Service are providing a critical lifeline during their time of need.

Operating on a shoestring budget that relies almost solely on contributions and grants, Somali Family Service of San Diego typically helps more than 3,000 immigrants from more than 20 ethnic refugee communities in the region through community engagement, health and wellness initiatives, technical assistance and guidance for small business owners, and promoting academic enrichment and leadership among youth.

The coronavirus pandemic, however, necessitated a shift toward emergency response mode. Its focus of late has been on helping families pay the rent, buy food, cover their utility bills, and buy diapers for their young ones.

The work of Somali Family Service has been aided by a $50,000 grant from the San Diego COVID-19 Community Response Fund at The San Diego Foundation, which has focusing its efforts on support nonprofits who are serving communities most impacted by the pandemic.

“That money is helping people survive,” said Najla Ibrahim, the nonprofit’s Director of Health and Wellness Programs.

A large number of San Diego refugees and immigrants are now unemployed, and the ongoing pandemic is putting a damper on their prospects for returning to work anytime soon.

Making matters worse is that many refugees are reluctant to seek help because of the public charge rule barring citizenship to immigrants who take advantage of public assistance programs. As if that weren’t enough, the Centers for Disease Control notes refugees to the United States, especially those who are recently resettled, may experience living arrangements or working conditions that put them at greater risk of getting COVID-19. 

“A lot of philanthropic groups are doing really amazing work, but sometimes there is a tendency to forget about the smaller organizations that are working with families that are often left behind,” Ibrahim said.

Grant funding from the COVID-19 Community Response Fund is critical to ensure the thousands of refugee families in our region have the support and resources they need.

You can help San Diego families and refugees in need by donating today.