Roundtable Discussion Seeks Solutions To Acclimating Burmese

By Jeff Neumeyer

September 24, 2010 Updated Sep 24, 2010 at 5:44 PM EDT

FORT WAYNE, IN (Indiana's NewsCenter) --- A meeting in south Fort Wayne aims to ease tensions between clashing cultures.

Renaissance Baptist Church on Hanna Street hosted a community discussion Friday morning about how to help a crush of Burmese refugees better adapt to the American way of life.

The event represented a start, but there's still a long way to go.

More than fifty people showed up, including city officials, community volunteers and leaders of social service agencies.

The main purpose was to lay the groundwork for future progress on assimilating the roughly 7,000 Burmese refugees who now call Fort Wayne home.

The city began to take Burmese refugees in 1991, seeing the number climb to nearly 800 by 2006.

But the number exploded in a new wave of settlements and secondary migrations involving those who moved here after originally being directed somewhere else in the U.S.

Reverend Michael Latham organized the roundtable discussion, after he heard complaints of cultural problems between the Burmese and local residents at Autumn Woods Apartments and in other Fort Wayne neighborhoods.

Latham came to check things out for himself, hearing stories from Autumn Woods tenants of Burmese people urinating in public areas.

Latham says he witnessed firsthand a Burmese woman eating food off the ground near an apartment dumpster.

The head of the Burmese Advocacy Center responded to a challenge from a woman at the meeting, who said she thinks the center should do more to educate the new arrivals.

Minn Myint Nan Tin/Burmese Advocacy Center Director: " We did outreaches, but I'm sure that is not enough and we have to do more, that's the one thing that I agree with you."

Carla Washington/Autumn Woods Property Manager: " People don't realize that there is a lot of folks behind the scenes doing things and educating."

Washington says at least four different agencies have been given space at Autumn Woods Apartments to provide care and training to Burmese tenants.

Heather Presley-Cowen, Deputy Director of Community Development for the City of Fort Wayne, said Mayor Tom Henry’s administration has formed a task force that's ready to wade into the issue more deeply.

Beyond that, she said on Friday that the mayor's office has communicated a plea to federal authorities, that until Fort Wayne actually gets a handle on assimilating the Burmese citizens here now, please hold off on sending the city more.

Reverend Latham and his church will host a follow-up meeting on Friday, October 15th.

The plan is to get more voices to the table, to broaden the approach to helping the Burmese get acclimated in their new surroundings.

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