Work Opportunities Opening Up for Sheltered Migrants

December 14, 2023

Several residents of the emergency shelter at the Bedford Plaza Hotel have received government authorization for employment, and a few have already found jobs in town.

Nahomie Georgeon, the Bedford Health and Human Services case manager at the hotel, said she helps residents complete practice job applications and prepare resumes so they can be equipped for entering the workforce. 

Georgeon said she has fielded inquiries from several local businesses, as well as the town Facilities and Public Works Departments, about prospects for hiring. A Stop & Shop employee said the supermarket has hired at least one of the migrants. Employers who want details on worker availability may reach her at [email protected].

The case manager said one possible resource she is considering is a job fair, and she is checking with some employers about their participation.

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More than 90 families are housed in the hotel at The Great Road and Shawsheen Avenue, and since they began arriving in early August, “a majority has wanted to work,” said Heidi Porter, Director of Health and Human Services for the town. Eligibility has started to emerge from mandatory federal processing.

A staff attorney and a paralegal from the International Institute of New England, a social service agency that serves immigrants, are working with residents at the Bedford shelter under a contract with the state government.

Jeffrey Thielman, president and CEO of the Institute, explained in a recent interview that the federal government requires an authorization document for each foreign national who wants to find work in the United States. The form is submitted to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service, and processing can take several months. 

Porter, who oversees the full range of services provided to the sheltered residents, noted that one of the requirements for the federal form is a Social Security number, which is part of initial processing at a shelter.

“We are encouraging people to go out and get a job as fast as they can,” Thielman said. He added that the longer term is more challenging, particularly in the category of housing. “The one thing that has to happen is a more comprehensive system to help people integrate into the community housing.”

A former human resources manager who speaks Haitian Creole, Georgeon said the town information technology department loaned her a couple of laptops that she uses for not only the practice exercises, but also to complete online applications and search for work opportunities.

“If they can get a job, and get what they need for themselves, that’s awesome,” Georgeon said.  

Porter added, “Our role is helping them on their road to independence. We are not in charge of anyone. We are facilitators.”

“We didn’t have a blueprint. As things present themselves, we are responding,” she continued. “Every day it’s something new for us.”

Language differences are still challenging, she acknowledged. “I try to tell them to practice with me, and if they’re missing something, I tell them how to say it.”

Porter said many residents are making strides after taking part in weekly lessons at the hotel, coordinated by Carrie Powers, director of English language learning in the schools.

Child care is also a challenge for some of the residents, Porter said. “Some residents are getting vouchers with their benefits,” Porter said. 

Porter said clothing collections are continuing, not only to benefit the sheltered residents, but for all people in need. Coats for adults and children can be left outside the food bank in the Town Center, where anyone who needs them can access them.

“We generated a map for our residents to show them where things they need are located – medical, shipping, bus stops,” Porter added.

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