Story by CVT volunteer Patricia Busse
For 12 years, the city of Portland, Maine, has been helping unanticipated secondary migrant refugees assimilate to the city, find housing and employment, and get connected with other social services.
But over the years, the city’s Refugee Services program started seeing more clients who were in need of counseling due to trauma they’d experienced before coming to the United States, said Program Coordinator Regina Phillips.
They’d refer them on to the local nonprofit Community Counseling Center for assessments and counseling.
“Not only were we seeing secondary migrants needing mental health counseling, but we were also seeing a lot of asylum-seekers with the same issues,” she said. “The problem with the asylum seekers is that they had real trauma but no case management, counselor or support to help them cope, engage or transition to Portland.”
The City of Portland gets more secondary and asylum seekers than primary refugees. Most of the refugees come from African countries including Burundi, Somalia, Congo, Rwanda and Sudan, she said.
With the demand for mental health treatment for torture survivors growing, and no torture treatment centers in the area, the city, as the lead applicant, along with Catholic Charities Maine Refugee and Immigration Services and Community Counseling Center, decided about three-and-a-half years ago to work together to apply for the federal Services for Survivors of Torture grant, she said.
With the grant money—which the group successfully obtained—they were able to pay for clinicians at the Community Counseling Center dedicated to treating clients referred by the City of Portland Refugee Services and Catholic Charities, depending on their refugee status Phillips said.
Representatives from the three organizations meet monthly, so they’re “all on the same page,” she said.
“We understand that we’re unique,” she said. “The program has been very successful with the three organizations working together.”
Over the course of the grant—which was recently renewed—over 233 refugees received counseling services in Portland through the survivors of torture program, according to the department’s 2012 year-end report.
“I think about what would have happened if we didn’t get the grant and we weren’t able to help all of those people,” Phillips said. “We have a lot of folks who come here every day for different reasons and we have a really good track record of helping them get housing or taking on their issues, and for me providing the torture survivor treatment piece of that seems like it naturally fits here.”