Editor’s note: A previous version of this article incorrectly titled Episcopal Migration Ministries as Episcopal Migrant Ministries. A correction has been made to reflect this.
AUSTIN (KXAN) — In a matter of weeks, the state’s largest refugee resettlement agency, Refugee Services of Texas (RST), went from suspending its operations to fully closing its offices statewide following a budget shortfall.
“It is with heavy hearts that we have come to this decision,” said David McKeever, CEO of RST, in a statement released by the agency last week.
Now the attention turns to the families that are currently living in Texas who were receiving services from RST, and the families that will be arriving to the state in the future. Volunteers worry that families will be greatly impacted during this transitionary phase.
Austin has zero resettlement agencies
RST had seven offices around Texas including a location right here in Austin, and the city relied solely on the now-shuttered agency.
Russ Apfel, a co-founder of the local non-profit Austin Jews and Partners for Refugees, said RST was the only resettlement agency in Austin. Other cities are able to rely on another resettlement agency, but Austin is now in a state of transition.
In its announcement, RST said the Austin refugee clients would be overseen by Episcopal Migration Ministries, a national resettlement agency. KXAN reached out to EMM about the announcement, and a spokesperson said, “EMM is working hard to reach out to clients impacted by RST’s closure to make sure that their needs are met–and is working to engage new local service providers.”
Apfel served on the advisory board for RST and currently serves on the Austin Refugee Roundtable, which consists of community organizations working to help refugees. He said he was told the Catholic Charities of San Antonio would start helping any new a refugee arrivals to Austin, and TXOR would help any of the clients that were currently being served by RST.
KXAN reached out to both TXOR and CCSA about the latest developments but have not heard back.
Will families get help in time?
Some families are already seeing an impact from RST’s closure. KXAN highlighted a family from Congo that was almost evicted because RST did not pay the first three months of rent that it promised. Gateway Church had to step in to help that family and others like it.
“There are certainly people falling in the hole and the cracks, and we’re trying to figure out with other people on the roundtable how do we get these people some services and help,” Apfel explained.
Jamie Gardner is trying to help some of the families falling through the cracks. She and a group of moms are trying to help newly-arrived Afghan families whose children go to the same school as Gardner’s.
“What’s going to happen to them when they can’t pay their rent on June 1? They were relying on that funding to pay the rent,” Gardner said.
She is worried that by the time a new resettlement agency steps up to fill the gap of service, it will be too late for some families.
“The family that is most affected by RST’s collapse has not been contacted yet,” Gardner explained.