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More Somalis seeking homes in Jamestown

Jamestown Sun
Thursday, August 12, 2010

Like some new residents in town, Osmond Jama wanted food products that reminded him of home. Jamestown didn’t offer coffee seasoned with ginger or yellow corn flour, so Jama opened his own grocery store.

Many shoppers at Jama’s Food Market are Somali natives like himself, but some are American-born too.

More than 550 families from Somalia have applied for housing through the Stutsman County Housing Authority. So far, the agency has placed about 20 families and more are living here without SCHA’s assistance, said Dave Klein, executive director at the Stutsman County Housing Authority.

“Most of them are here to try to make a life,” Klein said.

Somali-native Jama moved to Jamestown a couple months ago after living in San Diego for about a decade. He and his family wanted a place with better jobs and housing they could afford, he said.

So far, Jama’s Food Market offers non-perishable foods and items as well as some frozen meats. Jama said he’s looking to expand and may one day sell fresh fruits, vegetables and produce too.

About a month ago, Klein estimated about 400 Somali families had applied for housing in Stutsman County. The increase to more than 550 applicants is because of the wait list in other parts of the state, which in some cases is three years long. In Stutsman County, the wait is about 6 months to a year and a half. The housing authority prioritizes and places those within the county first, Klein said.

Some residents express concern about immigrant groups and their expense to small communities. Some refugees require help from social service programs like Medicaid and housing assistance.

Immigration poses challenges, Klein said, especially in this case because the Somalis come from different clans and speak different dialects. But many of the Somalis he’s worked with are trying to establish permanence here in terms of homes and employment.

“It’s going to take some adjustments on everybody’s side,” he said.

One of the adjustments is language.

Jama speaks broken English and can conduct business, but other Somalis do not. The native language in Somalia is Somali, but dialects differ. Other major languages include Arabic, Italian and English.

Organizations in town are looking to help their newest neighbors with those language barriers.

Jamestown College is in the primary stages of setting up an English as a Second Language program for new residents interested in finishing or perusing a college degree, said President Bob Badal. The college is preparing a plan, Badal said, because this influx of immigrants may be one of the most significant in James-town’s history.

“We want to be proactive about it,” he said.

In fact, Jamestown College and Jama’s Food Market already have ties. Jama said he’ll offer samples of his products at the College Community Connection Block Party on Aug. 26. Jama’s Food Market is located in downtown Jamestown at 206 First Avenue South.

At Jamestown Public Schools, the district is considering expanding its English Language Learning program, said Superintendent Bob Toso, but doesn’t think it will need it. Currently, a teacher staffs the ELL program part time. With 10 Somali students enrolled so far, Toso said the current level of staffing is likely sufficient.

“Right now, we’re not anticipating any increases,” he said.

The district is also conversing with its food services department. Most Somalis are Muslim, meaning they don’t consume pork. Already, the district offers two different choices for lunch, Toso said.

Aside from language, one of the more difficult aspects of adapting to Jamestown may be the winter. Jama said he’d heard of snow, but never seen it. In California, he wore short sleeves year round.

“I never buy a jacket in 10 years,” he said.

Sun reporter Katie Ryan-Anderson can be reached at 701-952-8454 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting              701-952-8454      end_of_the_skype_highlighting or by e-mail at [email protected]