Hispanic and Latino community has limited access to basic services in Athens-Clarke County

Athens, Ga. – The Hispanic and Latino community in Athens-Clarke County faces significant challenges when trying to access basic services locally, according to a report by the Latin American and Caribbean Studies Institute at the University of Georgia.

The study is the first comprehensive needs assessment of this population, which has nearly doubled since 2000 and today makes up 10.6 percent of the county’s population and 22.5 percent of the Clarke County School District student body, according to estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey and the Infinite Campus system.

Researchers looked at the community’s ability to secure health care, education, employment, legal aid and government benefits and found that most individuals frequently face barriers related to language, transportation, economic status, and lack of information when seeking any of these services. Furthermore, these obstacles are often interrelated, compounding their individual impact.

The study’s authors hope the findings can help better inform local and statewide private, nonprofit and government agencies on the issues affecting this segment of Georgia’s population.

“Truly understanding what their needs are and the barriers they face when trying to access existing services for themselves and their children is a cornerstone to the development of relevant programs and policies that affect their overall well-being,” said Alejandra Calva, LACSI community relations manager and lead investigator. “The best way to find out what they’re dealing with every day is to simply ask them and truly listen to their responses.”

Though the ACC Hispanic/Latino community has been included in past research, these efforts have focused on single topics like health care, or on sample populations that are either too small or so broad that they don’t address specific needs, Calva said. Similarly, few comprehensive needs assessments have been completed on Georgia’s Hispanic and Latino communities outside of the metro-Atlanta area.

The research team surveyed and held focus groups about a wide range of topics with more than 300 self-identified Hispanic/Latino adults living in Athens-Clarke County. The study found that 85.1 percent of participants were born outside of the U.S. and that 52.8 percent have lived in ACC for at least 11 years. Almost 38 percent arrived in search of employment for themselves or family members, and an additional 32.9 percent did so because they already knew somebody living in the area.

Community members hold a variety of citizenship and immigration statuses, with 41 percent of them living in households with people that hold a different status than themselves.

“This can really prove challenging, particularly for parents of children born in different countries who are trying to navigate strict eligibility requirements of key social services,” Calva said.

Respondents frequently cited a lack of information and the presence of misinformation about existing programs, but researchers found that it’s not necessarily easy for them to call or go to an agency to learn more.

Sixty-one percent of respondents only feel comfortable communicating in Spanish, and nearly half of all participants reported a lack of interpreter or translator services while interfacing with medical and social service providers in the last three months, even when those services are mandated by federal law.

Cost of services also has an impact on individuals’ ability to get health care, education and legal aid. Researchers attribute this to the fact that 63.4 percent of participants have a household income of less than $24,000, despite 77.4 percent of them being employed.

The study also found that 89 percent of participants with at least one child under 18 are likely living at or under the 2016 Poverty Guidelines put out by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The research team will host a series of presentations on their findings, which will be open to the public, community stakeholders and service providers. For a full schedule of presentations and to download a copy of the report, visit http://lacsiportaluga.org/needsassessment.

This study was funded in part by UGA’s Office of Research and the Latin American and Caribbean Studies Institute, the Title VI Department of Education Grant held by LACSI, The Sapelo Foundation, and La Vida Yoga/Work For America Foundation Inc. Cali-N-Tito’s and La Parrilla, two Latino-owned businesses in Athens, also contributed with in-kind donations.

The contents of this presentation/report/book were developed under grant #P015A140046 from the U.S. Department of Education. However, those contents do not necessarily represent the policy of the U.S. Department of Education, and you should not assume endorsement by the federal government.