Four years ago, The Post-Journal wrote about a man named Ruben Santos.
Santos was a Puerto Rican native who moved to America for a fresh start. He found an apartment and a job but, through no fault of his own, lost the job. With no money, he was then evicted from his apartment. Agencies that provide short-term help had trouble helping Santos because they didn't have someone on their staff who spoke Spanish. Social services to help Santos existed, but there was a problem getting people like Santos to the agencies that could help him. His options exhausted, Santos and a friend came to The Post-Journal. Eventually, from the ensuing story, Joint Neighborhood's Hispanic Service Navigator program was born.
Santos' story the shortcomings in how services are delivered to Hispanics. Many agencies didn't have many employees who speak Spanish. Many forms weren't in Spanish, so Hispanics who needed help had no way to fill out the very forms that could provide help. Area foundations, social service organizations and non-profits joined together to create the navigator's position as a short-term solution for people like Santos. The thinking was people like Santos shouldn't fall through the cracks in the time it would take for non-profits and government agencies to make the changes necessary to help non-English speakers find housing, jobs, workforce development and education for their children.
The navigator has done much good in the community during its four years and should continue in some fashion after Joint Neighborhood Project closes its doors on June 28. The program - and the community at large - need a few changes, though.
The Hispanic Navigator was meant to bridge a gap while the area got up to speed in training translators and making services more accessible to all who need them. The navigator has done its part, but the gap still hasn't really closed. There still aren't enough bilingual employees, or even qualified translators, at many non-profits and governmental agencies. That means people who received initial help from the navigator's office have had to come back for basic translation. The navigator has helped non-English speakers at medical offices because there isn't someone available to translate critical information to the patient.
In short, the navigator has become a caseworker, a placebo that allows agencies to operate as they always have. It is unrealistic to think that one person, at one agency, can effectively be all things to a group that comprises 8 percent of Jamestown's population.
We have full trust that the agencies who have spent the past four years trying to help the Ruben Santos' of Jamestown will continue to do so. We are certain the Hispanic Navigator will continue to exist in some form - though we challenge those working on the position to do so quickly. At the same time, we call on all levels of government, education and non-profits to create the infrastructure necessary to handle the day-to-day needs of the area's Hispanic population.
It is the right thing to do.