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American philanthropy: how the system of assistance to the needy actually works in the USA

Mexican Ivan does not know a word of Russian and has never been to Russia. He says with a smile that he inherited the Russian name from his parents, who really wanted to name the boy Juan. However, since Ivan already had older brothers with that name, the resourceful Mexicans decided to give the child a Russian version of the popular name. However, while Californian Vanya has no opportunity to visit Russia or anywhere else. Illegally brought to the United States by his parents as a child, the young man is still afraid to leave the country.

Photo: Shutterstock

Help for everyone

However, even without the status of an official immigrant and the chances of obtaining citizenship, Ivan considers himself a full-fledged resident of the country. He lived in the United States his entire adult life thanks to the DACA program, was able to get a psychological education at the University of California, and now he is engaged in literally saving the lives of Americans. Ivan implements a number of charitable programs in a Catholic organization Catholic Charities East Bayand also volunteers on the hotline suicide prevention... Anyone, feeling that he is “on the brink”, can call the phone number indicated on the website and receive at least primary psychological support.

A separate program that Ivan and his colleagues implemented during the coronavirus pandemic is free video seminarsto help trainees identify that they or their loved ones are under chronic stress, and to provide advice on how to reduce the effects of anxiety. Perhaps the most important part of the workshop was to offer a list of resources that can help during a pandemic - they are relevant to this day. This includes links to sites that help affected by coronavirus, data on where you can make a test for the presence of a virus like buy medicineswhere to get food or financial help, etc.

Even before the global epidemic, Ivan conducted seminars on psychological health for the local community, telling about the features of depression, neurosis, experiencing trauma and other problems, as well as first aid when they are detected. These are all examples of assistance that is provided to everyone, without exception, regardless of skin color or immigrant status. "Citizenship is a convention, and people are, first of all, people. Yes, maybe it will be difficult for me to work with a person of radically conservative views, but I will not refuse to help him.", - says Ivan.

Category problems

Indeed, contrary to the fears of many immigrants, the dramatic political and social changes that have taken place in American society in the past year have not affected the social sphere too much. The specificity, rather, lies elsewhere: the sphere of social assistance and charity in the United States has always been tied to certain categories of people. However, the types of these categories are determined not so much by the situation as by the urgent needs of society.

On the subject: How to help Americans left without work because of coronavirus: a list of charitable foundations

For example, in recent decades, an entire industry of assistance to victims of domestic violence has emerged in the United States. In particular, it was created program The US Department of Justice for Assistance to Victims of Domestic Tyrants, within the framework of which there are unified helplines throughout the country. Also, comprehensive information about the signs of abuse and the possibilities to get help can be found on the website specially dedicated to this topic - National Domestic Violence Hotline, and a list of public organizations dealing with this issue is available here... At the same time, it is quite common cases, when immigrants from Russia effortlessly proved the fact of abuse and received a green card even though their spouses were US citizens and formally had much greater opportunities.

The system of support for victims of sexual violence, regardless of the relationship between the victim and the rapist, is no less qualitatively built in the United States. After training, which usually lasts several months, volunteers from such organizations help women in hospitals and liaise with the police, if necessary. Problems most often arise in situations where the victim does not fit into any familiar category. In such cases, it is indeed difficult to get help.

«I experienced very traumatic persecution in Russia, but when I needed psychological help, it turned out that special organizations and help centers provide support only to victims of crimes that occurred directly in this city. I did not find any psychological assistance to refugees nearby", - complains Sergei, a political refugee from Russia.

Another area that “dropped out” from the list of vulnerable categories familiar to Americans is the relationship between a person with great power and status and a victim who does not have the resource for self-defense, but fits perfectly into a negative stereotype. In this case, we are not talking about domestic violence, the fight against which, as already noted, is conducted very well in the United States, but, for example, about working or informal relationships. Even sexual abuse that occurs in such situations is quite difficult to prove, and pressure and abuse of power that are not related to direct sexual violence threaten to go unpunished.

«If ordinary American women, faced with harassment, can seek protection, then any mention of sex in combination with a Russian / Ukrainian / Chinese immigrant and an influential American automatically launches a "spy" pattern in people's heads. At the same time, the public most often will not bother trying to understand whether the girl tried to refuse obsessive offers. When I was faced with real sexual harassment and even attempted rape by, shall we say, difficult Americans, I was bluntly told: “Don't try to make a fuss. You are from Russia, and no one will believe you ", - complains Nina (name changed).

Lack of initiative

However, sometimes the problem lies not in social stereotypes or special cases, but in the low level of self-organization in the diaspora. For example, volunteers are quite active in California. Interfaith Movement for Human Integrity - an interfaith group, which mainly includes believers from various Christian churches, united by the idea of ​​helping immigrants. They try to help newcomers avoid deportation, organize rallies in support of detained immigrants and, more importantly, prepare letters of support for them from the community, which are often taken into account by American courts.

Also, human rights organizations draw the attention of the press to specific stories and help create a public outcry. If necessary, they try to obtain affordable medical care for their wards, help with housing, work or family chores - for example, they can sit with the children while the mother is forced to earn a living, or at least pick up the children from school. Emotional support is equally important.

By the way, it was the Interfaith Movement for Human Integrity that helped the Russian at one time Alexey Haris, prisoner to jail after being denied political asylum. The US authorities decided to deport Alexei to Russia on the basis of the Interpol "red notice" made at the request of the FSB, but public figures managed to convince the court that the case may be politically motivated. However, there are no such organizations within the Russian-speaking community - as the immigrants themselves admit, primarily due to the too strong disunity of the diaspora.

View from the inside

As for the activities of state or municipal social services, then, according to these experts, it is even more difficult to politicize them than public organizations.

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«We are social services, civil servants. We have criteria that are developed by the state, county, or federal government, depending on the program. These criteria are adopted at the legislative level. Recently, in connection with the pandemic, it was not the criteria that changed, but individual procedures. For example, a number of programs have canceled previously required face-to-face interviews by allowing them to be conducted by telephone, since offices are closed. Additional rules were also adopted to ensure that health insurance is not interrupted during a pandemic, and so on."- explains the head of one of the departments in the social services of San Francisco Elena Bilak.

According to her, regardless of political sympathies, the rules are the same for everyone, and it is impossible to break them, just as it is impossible to help any one of the social groups based on their political views.

«Now I hear a lot of talk about how illegal immigrants came and got everything that is not given to legal immigrants. The reality is this: from beneficiaries, an illegal can only get medical insurance that covers only ambulance and childbirth. Everything else is exclusively for citizens or legal immigrants", - Elena explains.

Another myth she calls the opinion that the help of one category of persons is allegedly carried out at the expense of another.

«For example, at some point, it was decided to provide the children of illegal immigrants with full medical coverage, since there is no personal fault of illegal crossing the border. But due to the fact that these children received insurance, which includes vaccinations, examinations by a pediatrician and so on, nothing was taken from anyone. In addition, in this case, the criteria as such did not change, just one of the restrictions was removed, moreover, not to the detriment of the rest.", - sums up Elena Bilyak.

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