How Austin’s Rising Costs and Transit Lines Impact Services for Refugee Students

AUSTIN (KXAN) – Following an influx of Afghan refugees settling in central Texas last summer, Austin ISD and the University of Texas at Austin have stepped up their efforts to help new students get to adapt to life in America.

But as the cost of living in Austin steadily rises, it has pushed refugee families away from the inner city, many settling in the northern and eastern neighborhoods of Austin where public transportation resources are more limited.

“Refugee families are forced to seek housing further north further east in more affordable neighborhoods, which poses challenges to our program as our mentors want to be able to go to any school that needs us. Said Katie Aslan, program outreach director for UT’s Refugee Student Mentorship Program. “But public transport is a real problem. Many of our student mentors do not have their own vehicle.

This semester, between 10 and 15 UT students are helping refugees on AISD campuses, serving up to 20 individual campuses. Depending on the number of refugees enrolled and the specific services required, each UT mentor could be matched with a maximum of four out of five students.

With an increasing number of refugee students enrolled at AISD, those needs have become all the more urgent – and the transportation issues all the more evident, Aslan said.

“We want this to be a sustainable program. We want to make it as easy as possible for mentors to participate.

Katie Aslan, Outreach Program Director, Refugee Student Mentorship Program

To date, 241 Afghan refugees have settled in Austin so far in fiscal 2022, according to data from Refugee Services of Texas. For the full year 22 – October 1, 2021 to September 30, 2022 – RSTX projects that 1,020 refugees are expected to call Austin home.

It is not uncommon for a mentor to spend more than an hour each way, on multiple bus routes, to reach his refugee mentees, Aslan said. In response to this, UT’s Refugee Student Mentorship Program launched a fundraiser on Wednesday to help cover the costs of the carpooling services used by student mentors when they connect with the refugee populations of the ‘AISD.

In the first 24 hours of its launch, over $ 3,000 was raised against a goal of $ 8,000.

The program hosted a similar fundraiser in 2018. But between a combination of rising numbers of refugees and rising costs of ride-sharing services, it now seemed imperative to strengthen its resources and support student mentors, Aslan said.

“Carpool costs have increased considerably. And you know, we have so many more refugee families, and they live further from campus, so the costs have gone up, ”she said. “We want this program to be sustainable. We want to make it as easy as possible for mentors to participate.

The fundraiser runs until December 10, and Aslan said the program will also collect all children’s approved books, games, arts and crafts supplies and other resources. RSTX volunteers also help refugee families adjust to some of the more functional challenges of resettlement, such as furnishing an apartment or learning about Austin’s transit systems.

For Aslan, she said the program isn’t limited to teaching newcomers English or helping them adjust to the American school system. Uprooting her country and arriving in a new place can be a frightening and vulnerable experience, she said; the program is equally aimed at helping refugee students find their place and their joy in this next chapter of their lives.

“We want to be there to make these children’s experiences as easy as possible – to help them adjust, to help them learn the language, to help them adjust to the American school system, to make friends, to make friends. get involved in their schools and communities, ”she said. “The more mentors we have in schools, the more time we can spend with these students, the better. “

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