Making Olathe a More Welcoming City for Latinos
Overview and Mission of the Olathe Latino Coalition
The Olathe Latino Coalition (OLC) began meeting in the fall of 2011 in order to help shape a response to Olathe Mayor Michael Copeland’s request for help in addressing the needs of the Latino community in Olathe. The OLC is comprised of diverse individuals and organizations residing in or working in Olathe with the Latino population.
The United States is a nation of immigrants and immigrants have helped drive economic growth. Likewise, Olathe has attracted immigrants since the city’s founding. In 2008 Olathe was the 24th fastest growing city in the U.S. and CNN and Money magazine rated Olathe #11 on the 100 Best Cities to live in the U.S. Olathe offers affordable housing, an excellent school district and opportunities for business and economic development. This climate draws immigrants, who seek the same economic, educational, and quality-of-life opportunities as long-time U.S. residents.
Latinos represent 10.2% (12,794) of Olathe’s population of 125,872 according to 2010 U.S. Census. Latinos represent 10.5% of the population of Kansas at 2,853,118. In the 2010-2011 school year, Latino students represent 12% of enrollment in Olathe School District. This Latino population is diverse and includes immigrants from many parts of Latin America as well as Latino families that have resided in Olathe for generations. This population plays a vital role in the Olathe community as workers, taxpayers, parishioners, neighbors, consumers, and entrepreneurs. If current growth trends over the past 10 years in Olathe remain the same by 2030 the Latino population of Olathe would be over 79,000 representing a 600% increase in numbers and 30% of the total population.
Historically Latinos have not been adequately engaged in civic life in Olathe and Latino undocumented immigrants even less so. Typically undocumented immigrants are left to fend for themselves trying to adapt to a new culture, new country, new human service systems, basically integrating into civic life in Olathe. Immigrants face barriers such as language, affordable housing, access to health care, employment, and backlash due to anti-immigrant sentiments. This proposal and the work of the Olathe Latino Coalition has not been about immigration reform, that is a conversation at the federal level. Instead we have focused our attentions on what a community can do at the local level to improve the quality of life for all regardless of their citizenship.
We realize that the challenges we face together as a community in regards to our Latino neighbors are not solved easily or overnight. We appreciate the genuine interest being shown by our Mayor, City Manager and other city officials to invite us into a deeper conversation with the hope of making Olathe a model community for the Latino population. After extensive work with over 30 different Latino and Anglo leaders representing leading Latino organizations, churches, businesses, school district, social service agencies and city officials as well as hundreds of individual from within the Latino community we offer this proposal. It is our hope that it will serve as a foundational first step to a continued and steadfast partnership between the City of Olathe and the Olathe Latino Coalition as we work together to improve the quality of life for all Latinos.
The Mission of the Olathe Latino Coalition
To review and improve, where possible, various focus areas of life and business in the city in order to make Olathe a more welcoming city for all members of the Latino community.
Click here to read the full OLC Final Report
Phase One of The OLC was a collaborative effort of both Latinos and non-Latinos working together. One of the goals was to establish a core group of Latino leaders willing to forge a partnership of trust that could bear the weight of true collaboration and begin to speak with one voice about some of the most pressing needs of the Latino community as a whole.
As Latinos, and first-generation immigrants ourselves, we are very grateful and encouraged by the enthusiasm and participation that the OLC’s stated mission received from the stakeholders of our city. We could also sense the hope rising among the Latino community, as personal interviews and town hall meetings clearly communicated the message: ‘somebody is listening; somebody cares.’
At this stage, it is critical that the expectations and dreams awakened in individuals, families and organizations are met with concrete actions. As work moves forward on all of these and future Action Plans, we see the need to highlight these three Action Plans to the City because they have the potential not only to bring great change for the majority of the Latino community now, but also help propel the other plans forward in the future.
Daniel Bocanegra, Sylvia Romero, Brontis Varona
The OLC conducted a community survey to help identify important issues as well as strengths and needs within the community. Our intention was to get data points to help direct our Action Plans and serve as benchmarks for future work within the Latino Community. The survey was administered by Latinos to approximately 150 Latinos who live in Olathe. We partnered with El Centro to do the data analysis. Click here to see an English version of the survey. What follows is a sample summary of some of our findings.
Dealing constructively with the undocumented population.
Seventy-nine percent of the people we surveyed listed “lack of help for the undocumented” as a concern for them. That number reflected what we heard over and over again in the Town Hall meetings and conversations with the Latino community. Dealing with the complexities of the undocumented is a constant barrier to almost every Latino, even those who are documented. There are ways a local community can deal with the undocumented that help improve the quality of life for all citizens of the city and some of those ideas are reflected in the Action Plans.
Latinos are “settling” in Olathe.
The average age of the Latinos we surveyed was 41 and over 50% have lived here for over 10 years. Seventy-one percent are either satisfied or very satisfied with their life in Olathe and 79% have a strong and favorable opinion of the School System. All of this suggests that Olathe is not attracting a transient population but rather Latinos who have families and want to settle down and make Olathe their home.
Housing; a challenge and a goal.
When having a problem with a landlord 81% of those surveyed said they have no idea who to call or where to get help. Our Town Hall meetings suggested that language was an equally big challenge when trying to find help over the phone. One in five surveyed said they already own their home and 84% said they would like to own.
Looking for better work
Employment appears to be an ongoing challenge. Over 90% are working either full or part-time but over 52% say their family household earnings are less than $20,000/year with less than 2% making over $50,000/year. When it comes to accessing job training or placement services over 90% of those surveyed say they have never used employment training programs or services like the Kansas Workforce Partnership.
Who do you trust?
The Olathe School District and churches rated highest as to organizations that are most trusted by the Latino population. Much of the qualitative data we got suggested that information flow to the population was critical and that churches and the school system are in a unique position to be able to get information to the population.
Forty-four percent said they had not been to a doctor in the past year. Of those that did go 34% indicated they used the emergency room at Olathe Medical Center and 21% say they use the services of The Health Partnership Clinic of Johnson County. Additionally, 39% indicated they needed to see a doctor in the last 12 months but were unable.
Fear, Discrimination and Legal Assistance
Approximately one in three people surveyed reported experiencing some form of discrimination in Olathe. Of those that answered yes the results were evenly distributed over police and criminal justice (16%), employment (16%), housing (13%), other (13%). Nearly one in four (23%) said they had worked and not been paid for that work in the past. When asked, “Do you feel safe to call the police when a need arises,” 45% answered “no.” Sixty-one percent indicated that either they or someone in their family has needed an attorney and over 90% of those who answered the question indicated it was either impossible or difficult to get this service.
One of the outcomes of the initial process and Final Proposal was to increase communication and cooperation between the organizations and key stakeholders within the various sectors represented by the committees. The process helped establish an interest in at least four different groups to continue meeting in some fashion around how to help improve the quality of life for Latinos in Olathe. Those groups include the Olathe Chamber of Commerce and the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, various organizations within the Health and Social Services sector, Leaders from the faith community and an interagency group of stakeholders working around education priorities.
We accomplished a level of cooperation to this point that will undoubtedly bear fruit. But cooperation is simply the first step toward the greater, more disciplined and long-term work of true collaboration. Of the 22 Action Plans included in The Olathe Latino Coalition Final Report and Recommendations only 9 of them were currently “owned” by an individual, group or organization. The remaining 13 Action Plans are were still in need of a champion and the collaborative structure to implement them. The nature of most efforts like the Olathe Latino Coalition is that once the final report is completed and the recommendations are made people go back to their normal lives and vocational responsibilities.
In 2014 Significant Matters brought Mary Lou Jaramillo on board to lead phase two of the OLC. Under Mary Lou’s leadership the OLC has begun to move the original proposals forward as well as new ones that are continuing to emerge through the natural process of keeping key stakeholders at the table talking, planning and ultimately working together on solutions.
For more information on specific projects and ways that you can get involved please contact Mary Lou Jaramillo at email@example.com